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County approves new business networking group

County council has approved its participation in a new business networking group that will focus on bringing jobs to the area.

Council approved a motion Tuesday that stated it would approve the establishment of a Regional Enterprise Network to promote economic development in the county. The funding formula for the REN would be based on 50 per cent of the municipal contribution being shared equally and the remaining 50 per cent based on population.

It also agreed that surplus money from the now-closed Pictou Regional Development Agency be used for the municipal contribution in the first year of the newly formed REN.

All five other town councils are voting on the same agreement and if all five agree, an inter-municipal agreement will be drafted.

Stellarton and Trenton councils have also approved support for moving ahead with the REN.

County council made an amendment to its original motion stating that the inter-municipal agreement must come back to councils for approval.

Warden Robert Parker said Wednesday some councillors expressed concerns about the length of time that councils remain committed to REN and questioned what would happen with the funding if one council decided to leave.

“All that is the fine print,” Parker said, adding the inter-municipal agreement will address withdrawal, funding and council commitment. “We need to get that worked out ahead of time.”

RENs provide regional economic leadership and help develop regional economic strategies, while supporting small, local businesses. They were introduced in 2013 after the federal government cut funding to the 12 regional development agencies in the province.

Parker said in July it’s estimated that the REN would cost between $300,000 and $350,000 to operate annually, with the six municipalities and the province each contributing half. He said the province agreed to pay $166,000.

Based on a 50-50 funding formula that involves half of the $166,000 being split evenly between the six municipalities and the remaining half based on population, he said the county’s portion would be slightly more than $50,000. He noted that this is considerably less than what his municipality was paying toward the Pictou Regional Development Agency, which was $114,000.

Parker said it was made clear during a presentation by fellow councillor Larry Turner that the formation of a REN is going to take time to come together.

However, if all councils approve and the inter-municipal agreement is given the green light, Parker believes that the REN will benefit the entire county.

“The biggest thing is that businesses in the county will be running this rather than government,” he said. “It will be a board of directors made of business people from the county and it will not be just about attracting new businesses but it will be about talking with businesses already in the county.”

He said the REN will also have municipal government as the overseeing committee, making sure that its funding is being used correctly.

The local municipalities had been trying to develop an inter-municipal agreement with East Hants, Truro, Cumberland and Amherst to form a REN, but in 2015 several councils decided not to participate due to the large geographical area, administration concerns and costs.

Earlier this year, the six Pictou County municipalities discussed trying to join the Eastern Strait REN (Antigonish and Guysborough counties). Parker said in July that didn’t work out because those municipalities were already too far along in the process.

So when Pictou County asked to go it alone this time, the province agreed with one stipulation – all six units must agree in an inter-municipal agreement.

“We are doing it for PC,” he said. We will see what happens when the rubber hits the road. In the planning stages there is good co-operation and good give and take.”

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