A rural community in Southwestern Ontario, Wellington County is a collection of two towns and five townships.
Well known for its vibrant agricultural base, Wellington County also has a significant history in the equine industry. Much of the community focuses on the standardbred sector, with many businesses and horse owners setting up shop in Wellington County.
As a result, it’s no surprise that when the Government of Ontario announced last year that it would discontinue its Slots at Racetrack revenue sharing agreement, the news sent shockwaves through the province’s equine communities, like Wellington County, dampening community spirit and devastating local economic viability. Over 60,000 people are directly employed by the horse racing industry in Ontario, many of these individuals live and work in Wellington County.
Under the agreement, the Government of Ontario received 75 per cent net revenue from the gaming division. Remaining revenue, distributed to municipalities, track owners, and horse owners, resulted in economic stimulus in the form of job creation and several new business start-ups supported by the equine industry.
Wellington County has been dedicated to this issue since the beginning and decided to take a very public stand on the issue. The County Communications Division produced the Restore the Programme documentary. The six-minute, bi-partisan film was distributed to every Member of Provincial Parliament across Ontario and an array of media outlets in North America. The documentary highlights the economic challenges that equine communities face without the very successful Slots at Racetrack programme. Wellington County continues to work to resolve Ontario’s lingering equine industry.
On March 8, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, held a press conference at the Grand River Raceway in Elora announcing the new Ontario Government’s commitment to maintaining a sustainable horse racing industry. The Grand River Raceway and several other racetracks in Ontario have negotiated transitional funding agreements ensuring race dates for the 2013 season.
“Wellington County is encouraged by this transitional funding agreement,” said Andrea Ravensdale, Communications Manager with Wellington County. “News from the Premier’s Office suggests that the horse racing industry in Ontario will continue, but it will definitely be on a much smaller scale. Clearly, our investment in this issue has been worthwhile.”
The Restore the Programme documentary is available on YouTubeTM.
In early 2012, Wellington County developed its inaugural economic development mandate, transpiring from a grassroots level partnership. Each month, a committee of municipal economic development leaders, Mayors, and Chief Administrative Officers representing the towns and townships throughout Wellington County, plus economic development agencies like the Ministry of Economic Development and the Wellington Federation of Agriculture, meet to share and discuss not only the latest happenings in each municipality, but to form a greater understanding of opportunities at a countywide level.
Recognizing how large and diverse the County is, Wellington consulted with more than 550 businesses, educators, stakeholders and residents to develop an Economic Development Strategy, adopted by November, that focuses on growing the economic potential of its entire region.
“Having an understanding of who we are, our competitive advantages and economic opportunities has helped us frame the Implementation Plan going forward,” Jana Reichert, Economic Development Officer told The Canadian Business Journal. Wellington’s economy has four key sectors: manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, and the creative economy. And while the community has a large base in agriculture and traditional manufacturing, Wellington County touts the growth of its creative economy, which has seen the greatest volume in business growth over the past six years. Through its Business Retention, Expansion and Attraction initiative this year, Wellington will thus also extend itself to entrepreneurs in that sector to understand how to better support their growth and connect them with space, skilled labour and financing.
Healthcare is another sector projected to grow in Wellington County and one the County is supporting with its vision for Wellington Place; a 200 acre County-owned property that will become an institutional and civic campus. The grounds are currently home to the County Museum and library headquarters, a long-term care facility, an OPP operations centre and a public health office. A brand new hospital will also be part of this location and is slated for completion by 2017. With vast opportunities and a vision to develop a campus and post-secondary training facilities, this project will assist in meeting another goal of Wellington County: to bring a post-secondary college or university campus to the community.
The County is committed to providing quality infrastructure for both current and future business and residents, from heavy investments in road infrastructure to recently having partnered with the province to provide broadband internet coverage. Wellington is committed to facilitating connections, investing in its heritage Carnegie libraries and creating an inviting atmosphere for business as key to growing its communities. “We understand we need to facilitate the diversification of our economy and to be innovative with what we have, and Wellington Place is a great example of that,” commented Reichert.
Wellington County is also developing a workforce strategy to ensure they are matching labour force demands, working on labour force challenges and ensuring the County’s youth understand the varied career and apprentice opportunities presented in the skilled trades and other key sectors.
Quality of Life
Home to about 92,000, Wellington County offers urban living opportunities united with a proud rural heritage. Ideally situated, Wellington County provides residents with a quasi-rural lifestyle and a desired cultural community atmosphere.
“We have an excellent quality of place; from conservation parks with cliffs and waterfalls to charming downtowns and rural escapes,” says Reichert. “We also have a fantastic local agri-food movement where the County plays a role in growing the network through the award winning Taste Real Guelph Wellington programme.”
But that’s not all. In Wellington County, you’ll also find renowned theatres, unique arts and culinary trails, and a variety of festivals and community celebrations. Wellington County is also home to the largest municipal tree planting programme in North America. Under the Green Legacy Programme over 1.4 million trees have been planted by the community since 2004. “The County’s commitment to environmental excellence resonates positively with our residents,” Ravensdale said. “The Green Legacy Programme is a funded by the County but its success is attributed to our community partners.”
Furthermore, Maclean’s magazine recently ranked Wellington County as Canada’s safest community, based on Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index. “This recognition will let all of Canada know that Wellington County is a safe place to live, do business, retire, and visit,” commented Ravensdale.
Looking toward the future, Wellington County is very excited about leveraging domestic and international connections and promoting the County as an excellent place to invest and live.