Merrickville-Wolford Chief Administrative Officer [CAO] John Regan has only been on the job for two months, but despite the aches and pains of settling in to his new role, he already has some ideas about how to use his experience to benefit the Municipality.
With a degree in Economic Development from the University of Waterloo, John is looking forward to putting some of his expertise to work. While doing some light industrial development is on his radar, he is convinced that the focus needs to be on what Merrickville-Wolford does best: tourism and agriculture. “My knee-jerk reaction is that we have so much going for us,” John says enthusiastically. “We’re called the Jewel and I so believe that. We need to focus on who we are.”
With the focus on tourism and agriculture, the CAO says he wants to expand and bolster the two sectors by ensuring they run more efficiently, and may even look at combining them. One of the things that he said surprised him is that there isn’t a designated tourism officer in Merrickville, considering how much of the economy is based on tourism, and the many events that go on in the village throughout the year. “I think there is an opportunity to get someone in to coordinate things,” he says. “We could partner with another community, or even the county, to keep costs down.”
Keeping the Municipality looking its best is something that is definitely a priority for John. With a downtown that is known for its beauty, John feels it is important to uphold that and invest appropriately. “When you’re known for your beautiful downtown, you need to put your money where your mouth is and make sure that when banners get tattered, we replace them,” he says.
There has also been an issue, lately, regarding St. Lawrence Street becoming overcrowded with a-frame signs. Although there is a need to direct people down the side streets, John believes there is a more creative way of doing it that doesn’t litter the street with signage. “We need to invest more in streetscaping,” he says. “There is huge opportunity there for us.” He says it is also important to invest in the other hamlets in Merrickville-Wolford, like Eastons Corners and Jasper. “We’re one community and we need to treat everybody the same and with respect. It’s about quality of place and life for our residents as well.”
On the agriculture side, John wants to look at how the township can promote farm-gate business, and maybe look at alternative crops to expand the sector. “Over 50% of our population live in Wolford. We can’t forget about that,” he says. Agri-tourism is something that John believes would be interesting to develop. In French River, where he held the position of CAO, they have a Bison farm which draws many people to it every year who want to see a Bison up close. “There are many people from the city who have never seen a cow being milked,” John says. “There are some good best practices from all across the province that we could use in the region.”
John is adamant that economic development in Merrickville-Wolford is not something that can be looked at in isolation. His plan is to work with surrounding municipalities, like Perth and Smiths Falls, which have resources like hotels that Merrickville doesn’t have. “It’s a win-win scenario,” he says. “What is good from Merrickville-Wolford is good for the region and vice-versa.”