Opinion: Stop criticizing Peterborough Economic Development

By Stuart Harrison, President & CEO, Peterborough Chamber of Commerce

Peterborough Economic Development (PED) announced the hiring of its new President and CEO last week, and before the ink was even dry on the contract the organization was under fire from the usual suspects. 

I was at a conference of fellow Chamber Managers from across Ontario last week, and in a conversation with a Chamber Manager from Central Ontario who was leading the call for the establishment of an arms-length economic development organization in his City and County. The reaction from his Municipality - “Why would we want to do that? Just read the news and you can see what a disaster Peterborough has become...” 

Is this the reputation we want for our City? If not then perhaps we need to be a bit more circumspect in our criticism and a lot more aggressive in our support. 

The PED Hiring Committee and Board of Directors needs to be congratulated on the hiring of Rhonda Keenan. Her resume is rock solid, with 12 years of direct experience in Economic Development with the City of Oshawa. 

PED needs champions. Everyone in the local business ecosystem can play a role, and we all need to understand the very definition of Local Economic Development (LED). From the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

“LED is multi-faceted and collaborative, leveraging inherent community and regional strengths to gain a competitive advantage. LED does not have one leader, but rather the engagement of an array of community-minded individuals, business and political leaders, and key stakeholder organizations to drive the LED process.” 

Our local business ecosystem includes; City and County Councils, Trent and Fleming, the Innovation
Cluster, the airport, Community Futures (CFDC), the Peterborough, Millbrook, Havelock, and Lakefield Chambers of Commerce, StartUp Ptbo, Kawartha Manufacturers' Assocation (KMA), DBIA, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers and the Federation of Agriculture, the New Canadians Centre (NCC), the Peterborough Immigrant Partnership, Sustainable Peterborough, the Workforce Development Board (WDB) and one of the key recommendations to likely come out of our MP’s recent Jobs Summit, a Peterborough Advisory Council on Jobs.

Everyone needs to be on board and supportive. #TeamPtbo, if you will...

It needs to be said that the majority of City and County Councillors are supportive. And since they pony up $1.6 million per year in funding, they have every right to expect accountability from an organization that receives a big chunk of their budget. To me that accountability is built into the very structure of the organization, namely the PED Board of Directors, which includes the CAO’s of both the City and County. Other than an annual report and budget request from PED, we need to question why we are providing a quarterly opportunity for criticism. PED can quote stats until they are blue in the face, e.g. "in 2014 - 77 startups, relocations or expansions, 658 jobs, over $1million in Tourism Economic Impact, over $44 million in GDP economic impact....” and someone is still going to find fault... and our “disaster” reputation will continue. We need everyone to understand that public criticism of PED is damaging to the brand of the entire region.

The PED 5 Year Strategic Plan has two key areas of focus:


  1. Advancing Prosperity
  2. Creating a Culture of Startups and Entrepreneurship


Overall the strategy is focussed on local investment and retention while continuing to pursue potential attraction opportunities, witnessed by the recently announced new manufacturer in Major Bennett Industrial Park and Noble Tech Inc.’s exciting new $20M clean tech algae plant at the new Trent Research and Innovation Park.

I see specific opportunities:


  • Airport. We have existing serviced industrial lots, and 15 companies who can serve as an advisory committee for our new PED President & CEO, who brings her significant experience in building out a very similar development at the Oshawa Airport.
  • Trent Research and Innovation Park. Success here will come from multiple sources: existing fledgling companies like Noble Tech, investments from targeted companies attracted by the hub, commercialization of current research at Trent, and activities of the Innovation Cluster.
  • Manufacturing. There are 50-60 local businesses that are already connected to PED through their KMA membership. With leadership like Past Chair Tom Sayer, and Chair Rhonda Barnett, who will be the first female Chair of the Canadian Manufacturers' and Exporters, let’s use KMA like a Manufacturing Advisory Committee to make connections and trigger opportunity.
  • Agriculture. There is an existing focussed and strategic Agriculture Advisory Council. Look at the funding Havelock Metal Products recently received (EODF - $136K = 12 new jobs) and Persian Empire's expansion with $113K in Ontario Rural Economic Development Funding and $100K from EODF. Our MPP is the Minister of Agriculture.... how are we leveraging that?
  • Nuclear. With the recent reinstatement of the Darlington Nuclear refurbishment we need to revitalize the local Nuclear Cluster to capitalize on the opportunity and lobby for fair and balanced procurement for the project to make sure that there is local opportunity. 
  • Tourism. There is strong tourism staff in place with an existing advisory committee, coming off a very successful Travel Media conference last year which generated significant publicity and continues to bear fruit.


A Culture of Startups and Entrepreneurship already exists, and the creation of StartUp Ptbo has given PED the leadership role. There is talk of a potential Business Hub in the downtown core - a central place where you can go for everything business. This is common in many other communities in Ontario. If it comes to fruition, PED and the Business Advisory Centre need to be the first thing you see when you walk through the front door.

So who are Peterborough’s Champions?


  • Mike Skinner, who serves on the PED Board, leads by example, makes connections, and is relentlessly positive about Peterborough. His new company, Rainmaker, could easily be the next tenant at the Trent Research and Innovation Park.
  • Marcelos Sarkis who is triggering a fledgling relationship with Brazil through his connection with the Canada Brazil Chamber of Commerce, and is proposing a Brazil Trade Mission.
  • Paul Bennett, who leads the charge for Startup Ptbo, which has catalyzed the local entrepreneurship culture.
  • Tom Sayer and Rhonda Barnett from the KMA.
  • Tony Smith and Dick Crawford, the local volunteer champions of a refurbished rail line to Toronto. 
  • The Chamber’s Sandra Dueck, who has rapidly become a strong voice for business, getting the attention and respect of local, Provincial and Federal politicians. 
  • Adam Noble, Neil Emery, Suresh Narene, John Knight, and countless others who lead the water, tech and biotech sectors.
  • Rachel Atkinson and Karen Jopling with the Peterborough County Federation of Agriculture.
  • Trent Gervais at the Airport.
  • An engaged PED Board of Directors with a focus on strategy.
  • The entire Boards of CFDC, GPIC, Ptbo County Fed of Agriculture, WBN, WDB, the Chambers of Commerce, the Homebuilders, NCC, the Kawartha Realtors, the Construction Exchange, the Labour Council, and many more.
  • To name a few...


To repeat, “LED does not have one leader, but rather the engagement of an array of community-minded individuals, business and political leaders.”

Are you a Champion?

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