With the issue often a controversial one in the community, the value of overseas economic development trips was discussed during council on Monday night.
Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman had made a motion last month requesting the information, which concerned expenses and return on investment.
According to municipal statistics, there were 39 trips by C-K officials from 2011-17. Mayor Randy Hope participated in 15 of them.
The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) cost during that timeframe was approximately $507,000, after factoring in $126,000 in federal funding. The mayor’s portion was $122,000.
In addition to seeking foreign investment, another aim is to give local manufacturers and food processors a chance to promote their products in new markets.
“We also took a number of local companies from Chatham-Kent looking for new business with us,” said Michael Burton, the municipality’s director of business attraction and government relations.
Several benefits were noted in the staff report, including that 271 jobs were either created or saved due to foreign investment, with the estimated additional tax revenue pegged at over $700,000, along with additional indirect jobs due to these employees purchasing goods and services.
However, some of the goals didn’t materialize, include the potential for a fertilizer plant in Chatham-Kent.
Several factors for this included the drop in market price for urea in 2016, as well as property owners along the rail line indicating they were not willing to sell their properties.
Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy asked why landowners weren’t asked about their rail line properties beforehand concerning the potential fertilizer plant.
“Why wouldn’t we ask that question first?” he said.
Burton responded that the rail line was bought for a combination of reasons, including servicing existing businesses along the line.
Given that a $1-million investment from Chatham-Kent would have been required for the facility, administration determined the funds weren’t justified since there were no firm commitments.
However, Burton said economic development trips didn’t solely focus on a single initiative.
“We never took a trip specifically just to discuss one project,” he said.
Burton added there are currently a number of obstacles to foreign investment, in particular the uncertainty associated with the U.S. demanding to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, with investors now waiting to see what happens.
“We’ve got to get a resolution to that,” he said.