Proposed city budget earmarks $6M for diversification strategy

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Two weeks after unanimously approving Windsor Works, council will deliberate Monday over a 2021 budget that includes $6 million to begin implementing the ambitious economic diversification blueprint.

“I take from the vote and the length of the discussion (eight hours) that there is an investment in this and city council will move to get many of these things completed,” Mayor Drew Dilkens said Tuesday.

The Windsor Works report contains over 40 recommendations on strengthening and diversifying Windsor’s manufacturing-based economy.

U.K.-based consulting firm Public First’s proposed LIFT strategy stands for: Location (taking advantage of its proximity to Detroit to strengthen cross-border relationships and attract more Michigan businesses, workers, students and tourists); Infrastructure (making Windsor a better place to live and work, with an emphasis on reviving the downtown); Future Economy (maintaining the city’s existing automotive strengths by transitioning to electric vehicles); and Talent (attracting and retaining highly skilled, in-demand people).


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What comes first?

“The quick answer is we don’t yet know,” said the mayor, pointing to the fact that administration has been directed to delve into Windsor Works and come up with an implementation plan, something that probably won’t return to council until May.

But the mayor wants to ensure there is money in the budget to take action as soon as the implementation plan is done. It should outline the “low-hanging fruit and early wins” that can be tackled right away, Dilkens said.

“What we heard in the report is immediate steps and actions are needed. We know and I know and everybody knows that you can have the best-laid plan put together, but if you don’t resource it properly it will fail.”

The budget contains $550,000 in operating funds and $500,000 in capital funds in 2021 for Windsor Works, followed by $1 million in capital spending in 2022 and another $1 million for capital outlays in 2023. There’s an additional $3 million in capital penciled in for 2030, but Dilkens says the final price tag for full implementation is likely much larger.

“What we’ve done here is start with a modest amount both in operating and capital to say whatever comes back from administration in the next few months, we need to act.”

Probably one of the first outlays will be to hire someone to direct the plan at city hall. Windsor Works also calls for the creation of a committee to oversee things. It’s a project that can’t be handled as a side project by someone with other responsibilities, Dilkens said.


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“The idea is to move forward in tangible ways that would start implementing the recommendations in the report. You will definitely need people to do that and I can see on the operational side that money (the $550,000 in 2021) partially being used to hire people to move the plan forward.”

The heart of Windsor Works, the mayor said, is finding ways to match the needs of future and current employers with what is provided by the city’s educational institutions. He envisions the city, St. Clair College and the University of Windsor working together toward one common goal.

Dilkens insists he has no idea what recommendations should move ahead first. “I really truly want a thorough review by administration to say how do we do this in a sensible way.”

He said the money set aside for capital projects is likely a drop in the bucket compared to the total costs being recommended — everything from added bike lanes to themed neighbourhoods to improving the downtown to make the city a more liveable place where people want to live and work. The initial funding commitment, he said, is intended to give Windsor Works some traction starting in Year 1, he said.

“The right time to really zero in on the dollars and cents is once we get the implementation plan back from administration, saying if you want to do these five recommendations  you’re going to need $6 million in order to pull it off successfully.”

City hall leadership is currently in the midst of major change.

Chief administrative officer and longtime senior management team member Onorio Colucci is retiring in April and is being replaced by Town of Innisfil CAO Jason Reynar. Jan Wilson, the city’s parks and recreation czar, retires next month, and city engineer Mark Winterton is also retiring, though he’ll be coming back on a temporary contract, Dilkens said.

Administration is also involved in the vaccination rollout plan, which takes top priority.

“So there’s going to be a bit of a gap here,” the mayor said. “But we will get to this. My hope is May.”

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