Council starts business plan process for Waterloo building
HUNTSVILLE – The Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment could become a petri dish for fledgling businesses, but it needs some cash and a plan of attack.
The Town of Huntsville, along with partners, will soon host a day-long event to see if there is interest from budding businesses for a business acceleration centre at the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment.
Kelly Pender, chief administrative officer for the Town of Huntsville, made a presentation at a February council meeting to gather councillors’ support for an extensive planning process that could lead to a business acceleration centre in the Forbes Hill Drive building.
Pender explained that the town, along with Muskoka Community Network and the University of Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment, wants to apply to FedNor for a grant that will help pay for a feasibility study and business plan, which are needed before the acceleration centre can be created.
“We have met with the FedNor representatives and (Muskoka-Parry Sound MP Tony) Clement. They are in support at this stage, but obviously every grant application goes into the hopper with a lot of other things,” said Pender.
He said the business acceleration centre would encourage new businesses to work together with the support of local partners to improve their success rates.
“With new, start-up businesses, about one in five is successful. But businesses that go through a business accelerator process, they get that success rate up to about 70 or 75 per cent,” said Pender. “It’s a great way to grow new businesses.”
The centre would focus on clean technology businesses. Clean technology can include recycling, information technology, green chemistry, data centres and renewable energy such as wind power, solar power, biomass, hydropower and biofuel, among others.
“Clean tech has high-value, good-paying jobs,” said Pender. “A large portion of the staff working in technology are interested in the lifestyle and all the great things Muskoka offers. … And it has a tremendous effect on the attraction and retention of youth to our community.”
He said the type of businesses the centre would support complement the businesses that are already in the building, including Muskoka Community Network, the University of Waterloo and Muskoka Animation Studio Huntsville. And nurturing those businesses could lead to jobs in the community.
The centre is meant to be financially self-sustaining through generating revenue, whether through special events or services.
“A sustainable funding model is the key. This isn’t something that should require ongoing tax support. It should be something that has a business model that is sustainable based on supporting the business community,” said Pender.
The town and its partners have issued a request for proposals from consultants to develop a feasibility study and business plan for the acceleration centre. The feasibility study will include a financial plan as well as a description of the centre, what infrastructure would be needed and how the centre would be governed, among other aspects.
The town’s community master plan recommends the creation of an independent economic development corporation with a board of directors to manage the Forbes Hill complex.
But the feasibility study is phase two of the project.
Phase 1 is a town-hosted event later this month to gauge the interest of area individuals and businesses in using an acceleration centre. If there is interest, Phase 2 is to pin down funding partners and prepare the feasibility study.
Phase 3 is the creation of a five-year business plan for business acceleration. The business plan, states Pender’s report, will be used to secure grants for the development of the centre.
The entire project, from Phase 1 to Phase 3, is expected to cost $150,000. Project partners will provide cash and in-kind contributions of $20,000, while the town will contribute $30,000 divided between Phases 2 and 3. The anticipated FedNor grant is expected to provide another $100,000 for the project.
Pender said council can pull out of the process at anytime if it feels the project is not viable.
Councillors approved the recommendation to choose a consultant to conduct Phase 1 of the project and to submit an application to FedNor for funding.
The Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment has been a topic of debate around the council table during budget deliberations. Some councillors have suggested the town sell the building, though they would want it be used for educational and research purposes if sold.
The $9.75 million building, funded by the federal government as part of the G8 summit, is a research facility of the University of Waterloo’s faculty of environment. It also houses some offices of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Muskoka Community Network and Muskoka Animation Studio Huntsville.
Staff budgeted for $83,250 in revenue for 2012 and $455,069 in expenses for the building at the beginning of the year. After a transfer from reserves the proposed net cost to taxpayers for 2012 was projected at $319,979.
The town is facing a 9.5 per cent increase to its levy in 2013 and councillors are looking to cut costs.
However, Mayor Claude Doughty said during the last council meeting that the Phase 1 event to be held later this month would dictate the future of the building.
“It will be a pretty pivotal day for us to really focus on getting that building where we want it to be,” said Doughty.