Open letter from Bill Sandison re: employment opportunities

Time being of the essence I have elected to communicate with you in the most expeditious manner.
I would like to begin by thanking Joe Preston, Member of Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London and Hon. Steve Peters, Member of Provincial Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London for their
unbridled commitment to all constituencies and their unwavering support to the City of St. Thomas.

In response to a call for positive ideas from the St. Thomas Times-Journal and a staff member at the City of St. Thomas Public Works, I ask that both Joe Preston, Member of Parliament for Elgin-
Middlesex-London and the Hon. Steve Peters, Member of Provincial Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London reach out again to our city council on behalf of the residents of St. Thomas to specifically
help make the creation and deployment of an employment strategy a priority and a reality.

It has become increasingly evident that St. Thomas Mayor/CAO Cliff Barwick is confused and out of touch on this issue. In the December broadcast of the Roger’s TV program Politically Speaking, Mayor Barwick commented to host Dan Reith that the job loss catastrophe had all occurred within a six to eight week window and had basically caught everyone by surprise. The reality is that it has been an ongoing and mounting crisis for two years not two months.

Barwick’s knowledge of the potential for dire job losses dates back to his run for the Mayor’s office.
On numerous occasions I have invited city council to dialogue with me on ideas meant to improve accountability, transparency, and financial management concerning local affairs. To-date this has
largely fallen on deaf ears but my enthusiasm and passion for our city remains steadfast. I would like to share with you and St. Thomas city council some insight and thoughts on the need and formulation of a job strategy for our city.

Let me touch briefly on some important flashpoints since the fall of 2006;

In September 2006, the St. Thomas Ford Assembly Plant announced that 1000 workers would be terminated when they reduced to one shift. Immediately thereafter Lear Seating declared it expected to cut about 130 jobs when the Ford assembly plant made their adjustment. At that time, Robert Wheeler, general manager of the St. Thomas Economic Development Commission downplayed the announcements stating, “It is the cycle of the automotive industry, but I think there will be more opportunities in the future for our businesses”.

In November 2006, then mayoral candidate Alderman Cliff Barwick and Mayor Jeff Koehler participated in an editorial panel hosted by the Times-Journal to share their views on key issues. “Topics of discussion included the mayor’s role on council, the merits of a chief administrative officer, a code of conduct for
council, dealing with divisiveness amongst members of council, accessibility issues, and the possibility of significant job losses in St. Thomas and area over the four-year term of council.”

It appears someone was mindful that staggering employment issues could be on the horizon.
Alderman Barwick responded to the panel, “No, we don’t have any plan in place… but you have to take a proactive stance now”.

During 2007, the St. Thomas Ford Assembly Plant adjusted to one shift resulting in 1500 lost jobs; Sterling laid-off 500 workers; and Formet/Presstran released 100 temporary workers. Throughout 2008, job losses continued starting in February with A. Schulman Inc – 120, then Therm-O-Disc – 350; Formet –
400; Presstran – 200; Alcoa Electrical – 150; Sterling Truck – 2,000; and Timken – 48.

In 2009, we are only halfway through January with another 120 people temporarily laid-off at Formet; and another 128 permanently laid-off at Presstran. In total 4,000 jobs have vanished from the City of St. Thomas, excluding the St. Thomas Ford Assembly Plant reduction and we still “don’t have any plan in place”.

We require a paradigm shift in thinking and leadership to develop and implement an employment strategy for our city. Broad brush we need to critically examine our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities
and threats (SWOT analysis) to create a framework from which a strategy can be developed by building on strengths, resolving weaknesses, exploiting opportunities and avoiding threats. While this may appear an obvious or simple task, it is critical to the successful development of any strategy. A small task force (maximum > 10 people) should be able to develop this in a week with a full-time commitment. It is with the strategy that the next step can be taken; tactical deployment. Some areas to be considered are
renewable energy, biotechnology, pharmaceutical research and development and/or manufacture, and hospitality.

The Federal Budget is scheduled to be tabled January 27th, 2009 and we should be fully prepared to capitalize on any and all opportunities that may benefit our city. Some actions to be considered as part of the employment strategy;

Leverage Existing Partnerships – determine, in conjunction with federal and provincial legislative representatives sources of available funding to ensure we take full advantage of opportunities, and are dovetailed to those specific areas such as infrastructure, heritage and education.

Solicit Retail Business – approach Lowes to promote St. Thomas as part of their Canadian/Ontario investment strategy – approach Best Buy to promote St. Thomas as part of their Ontario expansion/relocation strategy – approach Future Shop to promote St. Thomas as part of their Ontario expansion/relocation strategy.

This is the most important structural economic issue facing our city today and a leader must emerge. I urge somebody on city council to step up and take ownership of the issue and drive an employment strategy for St. Thomas by putting the pedal to the metal. We do not need a gaggle of consultants and a boatload of money to create an employment strategy nor do we have the luxury of time to spend three months scoping out a plan. It should be done by subject matter experts and with a keen sense of urgency.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from Thomas Edison, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”

If you wish to discuss, please do not hesitate to call me.
Bill Sandison
144 Lake Margaret Trail
St. Thomas, ON N5R 6L7


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