By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Minister of Finance Rod Phillips, a member of the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Task Committee, stopped at Cobourg’s Venture 13 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre Friday afternoon for a look at how the Northumberland-Peterborough South riding is addressing the challenges of an unprecedented time.
Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation executive director Wendy Curtis began the visit with a tour around the facility that included the story of how the vacated school-board building was transformed – through an amazing list of partners – into a regional centre of opportunity.
Phillips was escorted past the offices of the CFDC and Northumberland Maunfacturers’ Association, into the Venture Zone office-space complex with its individual interview rooms and other amenities, through the Innovation Commons lecture hall and into the Northumberland Makers Lab.
Two specific local success stories were on display, the first being the wall-mounted Thermo Scans sensor that can tell you within seconds if you have an elevated temperature. Being developed locally, it is now in use at the Cobourg Police station and Northumberland Hills Hospital as well as at Venture 13.
In the Maker Lab, Colin Slade detailed the second – the venture that has drawn on partnerships with local industry and Durham College to produce badly needed face shields.
The need for this form of personal protective equipment was obvious at the beginning of the pandemic, Slade recalled. They turned the resources of the Maker Lab and their partners to the task and started out producing 30 shields a day. The number would grow to 300 a day, their product finding its way to long-term-care facilities, hospitals and first responders in Northumberland and Durham.
It was a product to be proud of, he said. It was well received, and the design won the praise of Northumberland Hills Hospital.
“They thought it was the best design they had seen,” Slade said.
“They said ours didn’t fog up, and the ones they got from their suppliers did.”
“This is a real rural solution coming together,” local MPP David Piccini said.
Phillips shared some details on how the province is supporting the community through increased public-health funding and electricity subsidies for families and businesses, as well as additional money for families with children who have special needs at a time when families had to be isolated.
“That’s a good first step, and the Federal government has obviously supported a number of programs like rent subsidies,” Phillips added.
The minister said he is looking to see what businesses need in advance of further phases of reopening. But Piccini pointed out that the province had “set the stage pre-COVID, which enabled our government to respond much better.” Along with increased base funding for hospitals, for example, he cited infrastructure-project approvals that were brought along to shovel-ready stage.
With the coming of the coronavirus, Piccini continued, local partners pulled together to ensure the community’s most vulnerable had shelter.
Phillips said that partnerships and pulling together had made the difference for Ontario.
“We are going to have to keep supporting each other, and the government will be there for Northumberland,” he added, citing a $1-billion contingency fund to support sufficient PPE supplies.
“We have seen the number of tests going up, and we are making sure they are funded and available – we’re doing 20,000 a day.
“We are really about getting the resources out as quickly as possible, and kudos to the Federal government – we are working together closely, and they also acted quickly to get the money out during unprecedented challenges.”
The visit concluded with a presentation by Northumberland Economic Recovery Task Force co-chairs Brendan Cunneen and Dan Borowec on the various challenges their group had uncovered and their three initial recommendations.
Tackle broadband deficits – Given the significant gaps in high-speed capacity and availability at a time when high-speed internet connectivity is a linchpin to local economic recovery, the county is leading an initiative to assess the status quo and define a recommended approach to (and road map for) maximizing access in underserviced and unserved areas.
Power the transition to on-line – At a time when consumers feel safest trading on-line, the Business and Entrepreneurship Centre Northumberland and local partners are assisting small businesses in developing their on-line presence.
Fuel consumer confidence – As businesses open to in-person transactions, consumers are most confident with a clear, standardized and reliable method (such as PPE requirements) of patronage. All partners are working on a consistent approach to encourage this arm of commerce.