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Northern communities urged to build an economic network.

The communities of Northern Ontario need each other and must support each other, according to Alex Berthelot.

The chairman of the Elliot Lake Economic Development Committee made this passionate statement last month during a Northern Ontario business conference sponsored by the ministries of Northern Development and Mines and Industry Trade and Technology. The title of the conference session was Partnerships.

Berthelot asked the politicians, government officials and economic development officers in attendance to consider the consequences of Elliot Lake's fate.

"If we are not successful - if we don't make it, what message does it send to Chapleau, Kapuskasing and Kirkland Lake? What message does it send to investors about Northern Ontario?"

Berthelot's call for increased economic co-operation between the communities of Northern Ontario was echoed by Kapuskasing Mayor Ted Jewell.

"We must establish more trade between our communities and begin to do something for ourselves by ourselves," the mayor said.

Jewell advised the north's single-industry towns to prepare for crisis and address the public's complacency.

"In single-industry towns there is an attitude that life goes on. It creates false expectations and unrealistic hopes, and this goes on until we face downsizing, change or closures," he commented.

"Fear did wonders for us."

Jewell also warned the audience to "beware the political mule."

"They (the mules) are at every level of government. They are out to make points, but they clutter up the works."

"The crisis will last a long time," he added. "There is no time for passion and there are no key people. It must involve everyone. Everyone counts and everyone is needed."

Berthelot informed the audience that Elliot Lake still has not received a dime of provincial assistance even though the first announcement of aid was made 18 months ago. He predicted that the first cash will arrive in Elliot Lake next March at the earliest.

"Accessibility to dollars is a big problem," he added. "We shouldn't have to go to a dozen agencies and jump through a dozen hoops."

Warning that Elliot Lake won't be the last Northern Ontario town to be hit by mine closures, Berthelot recommended that a model for economic diversification be established.

"There is no model to work from. We had to start from scratch, organizing committees and coming up with a strategic plan," he recalled.

Berthelot said Elliot Lake has four economic development officials and 200 volunteers who are committed to the town's survival, but the volunteers lacked the tools of knowledge, access to funding and training to succeed.

"Here (Elliot Lake) is the latest and greatest experiment in economic diversification. We should have someone documenting it and analyzing it," he recommended.

Audience member Ron MacDonald, chairman of the Sudbury Regional Development Corporation, complained that the province is now considering using the city of Cornwall as a model for economic diversification.

"Must we go through the learning experience over and over again?" he asked.

Berthelot also complained that government assistance programs are designed to help businesses start up or expand, while none offer assistance to businesses which are just trying to survive.

"We are talking about people who have lost 40 to 50 per cent of their markets. Our best chance is to stabilize these people. They need money to survive," he said.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Northern Ontario
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:Employment barriers will be removed, says minister.
Next Article:Competition receives mine-sweeper contract; Portship responds with more emphasis on the company's engineering division.

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