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Springfield eyes new hiring as route to economic growth

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 05/29/2018 11:00 AM

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After a months-long awkward dance between RM of Springfield council and the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Reeve Bob Bodnaruk says the municipality will hire its first economic development officer to act as an intermediary between the two entities.

Council unanimously supported a resolution last week that laid the groundwork for the position, which Bodnaruk said will be filled "within the next couple months."

The situation began Jan. 9, when a 4-2 vote approved a $200 annual chamber membership for council.

Chamber president Nicole Chabot introduced herself to council one year earlier. Formed in mid-2016, the chamber has 92 members and meets quarterly with chief administrative officer Russell Phillips, she said this week.

Bodnaruk, who opposed the membership purchase, said yesterday it’s unprecedented for an elected council to join a chamber of commerce.

"Council should be at arm’s length from any particular organization like that."

In February, five business-related questions posed by Chabot in a letter again prompted council to think through its relationship to the new interest group. In several ensuing discussions, councillors debated whether to respond to the questions individually or as a group.

Bodnaruk said he continues to support entrepreneurship but wants council to avoid entanglements.

"As the governing body, you should not have affiliation within a lobby group that’s going to lobby the same council…We may have to make decisions for or against providing some sort of service," he said.

Chabot said she "didn’t quite understand" that objection, as both entities want Springfield "to be an attractive place to live, work, and play."

The five questions weren’t intended to cause a reckoning, she explained, but were an outworking of a chamber priority to, as the letter stated, explore "collaborative opportunities" and "mutually beneficial positive outcomes" in a growing municipality.

"There are a lot of businesses here and we felt that there was a lot of opportunity to work together," she said.

While the chamber hoped a new working group would also be struck, Chabot called last week’s resolution "a huge win."

"It shows they (council) are focused on economic development in our community," she said.

While the fledgling chamber isn’t following a template for interacting with its local council, Chabot said the executive hopes to offer input into council decisions that may affect its members, including ongoing reviews of Springfield’s strategic plan and development plan.

"It’s important to us to have a vehicle that supports the continuity of community vision and planning," she said.

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