Renfrew County, Ontario

May 30, 2024

Renfrew County, Ontario

Shaping Tomorrow: A Strategic Vision

 

Steering the region through growth and challenges with pivotal projects and partnerships.

Spanning 7,700 square kilometers, Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada, is a sprawling region rich in natural beauty and vibrant economic activity. With 53% of its territory designated as crown land, it is a place of both tranquility and bustling community life. The County houses a population of approximately 107,000 residents and supports a diverse range of economic and recreational activities.

Peter Emon, Warden of the County of Renfrew, highlights the unique economic landscape shaped by significant local employers. “The County is home to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and Garrison Petawawa, two pivotal federal employment hubs,” he explains. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories alone boasts a workforce of about 3,400, while Garrison Petawawa employs around 6,000 enlisted personnel and an additional 1,000 civilians. “These institutions stabilize our local economy and drive numerous development projects across the county,” Emon elaborates.

Emon says the county’s infrastructure is substantial yet tailored to its rural character. “With 800 kilometers of roads and about 220 culverts and bridges to maintain, the impact of our construction projects is profound, especially considering our population size,” he states.

Visitors journey through Renfrew County and encounter a rich tapestry of geographic and recreational offerings. “Entering from the east, near Ottawa, you travel through an expansive corridor that stretches to Papineau-Cameron in the north and curves around to Barry’s Bay adjacent to Algonquin Park,” Emon describes. The western and southern borders touch historic communities and scenic counties, creating a diverse and accessible environment for residents and tourists.

Addressing Housing Challenges in Renfrew County

Renfrew County is grappling with similar challenges in the face of national concerns over housing availability and affordability. The area’s vibrant growth and economic development have, paradoxically, spurred a housing shortage that affects long-standing residents and newcomers drawn by employment opportunities. Emon articulates the severity of the housing crunch in Renfrew.

“Our vacancy rate hovers around 2%, rising to 2.7% at times, which is quite remarkable for our community,” he notes. This tight housing market results in competitive bidding wars, with homes frequently selling for more than the listed price. “Just recently, I’ve seen at least two homes in Renfrew go for above asking price,” he adds, highlighting the ubiquity of this trend across the county.

The scarcity of affordable housing has a direct impact on the local workforce. “Business owners regularly express concerns about losing employees who cannot find affordable housing near their workplaces,” Emon explains. This issue not only affects the retention of current employees but also complicates the recruitment of new talent, which is essential for sustaining economic growth.

To address the housing shortfall, Emon discusses collaborative regional efforts for substantial housing development. “We’re part of a coalition across Eastern Ontario, targeting the creation of 7,000 homes over seven years,” he reveals. This initiative, known as the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which Emon chairs, has garnered support from various sectors, including a partnership with the Ontario Home Builders Association.

The strategy involves leveraging both public and private resources. “Our approach includes offering land packages and connecting new developments to municipal services, which incentivizes private developers to build both market-rate and rent-geared-to-income units,” Emon details. This collaborative framework is designed to facilitate the construction of 28,000 homes, blending market-rate units with more affordable housing options to create diverse, inclusive communities.

Expanding Infrastructure in Renfrew County

As Renfrew County thrives and its population increases, addressing infrastructure needs becomes imperative to ensure that growth does not outpace its ability to serve its residents and businesses. Emon discusses several significant projects aimed at improving roadways and expanding digital connectivity, which are essential for sustaining the region’s expansion and enhancing the quality of life for its residents.

“In 2010, we initiated a major project to lay fiber throughout Eastern Ontario, vastly improving broadband access. However, the demand has since outgrown our initial projections,” he states. With the rise of streaming services and remote work, the network’s capacity was strained. Renfrew has embarked on a $275 million initiative to improve cell coverage and connectivity, essential for supporting remote work and attracting more investment to the region.

Addressing traffic and safety concerns, Emon highlights the plans for Petawawa Boulevard, a critical artery for the local community and the military at Garrison Petawawa. “The traffic buildup during peak hours has necessitated a closer look at public safety and traffic flow, leading us to plan a $5-6 million roundabout project to alleviate congestion,” he notes. This initiative is part of a broader partnership with Garrison Petawawa to enhance accessibility and safety for military and civilian populations.

Further discussing infrastructure projects, Emon details the broader scope of roadway improvements, including the proposal for additional roundabouts and the expansion of County Road 51. “We’re considering another roundabout at Mohns Road and planning a significant expansion of the bridge across the Petawawa River, estimated at around $21 million,” he reveals. These projects are critical for managing the increasing traffic flow resulting from population growth and economic development in the area.

Emon reflects on the challenges and opportunities of managing infrastructure in a rapidly growing county. “Forecasting future needs while addressing immediate demands presents a dynamic challenge for Renfrew County. We’re engaged in ongoing conversations with various stakeholders to ensure our infrastructure keeps pace with our growth,” he adds, illustrating the County’s commitment to thoughtful, strategic planning to support its continued development.

Tourism in Renfrew County

Renfrew County is expanding its infrastructure and strategically enhancing its tourism and workforce capabilities to sustain and amplify regional growth. Emon discusses the direct initiatives in tourism and the collaborative efforts to foster workforce development, which is essential for maintaining economic vitality and attracting further investment.

He starts by outlining the County’s approach to tourism, which focuses on staging events that draw visitors from beyond its borders. “We recently hosted the Ontario Winter Games, a massive undertaking that brought 2,500 coaches, teams, and officials to our region,” Emon shares. The event showcased Renfrew County’s capacity to host large events and had a significant economic impact, with a budget of approximately $3 million, supported by provincial funding and generated revenues.

David Wybou, the County business development officer, then takes the conversation further, detailing ongoing support for the tourism sector. “The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association plays a crucial role in promoting tourism activities across the region and is a key partner in tourism promotion and development,” he says. This partnership is vital as it helps unify and amplify the efforts of various tourism-oriented businesses.

Renfrew County’s natural and recreational assets are critical to its tourism strategy. “Our offerings range from whitewater rafting and skiing to hiking trails that have seen a surge in popularity post-COVID,” Wybou points out. He highlights the transformation of the Algonquin Trail, a significant infrastructure project that has converted an old rail line into a thriving 300km recreational pathway, attracting more visitors each year.

Moreover, the local racetrack has found a unique niche in the entertainment industry, serving as a versatile filming location. “It’s not just about the races. The track has been featured in movies and TV shows occasionally staged for high-speed chases, which adds to our allure as a filming destination,” Wybou adds, illustrating the diverse ways tourism can spur economic activity.

Workforce Development in Renfrew County

As Renfrew County navigates the complexities of a labor shortage, the focus shifts to strategic workforce development. Collaborative efforts with educational institutions and technical training centers are crucial to preparing a skilled workforce that meets the evolving needs of the local economy.

Emon discusses the county’s partnership with Algonquin College, highlighting specialized training programs that are attuned to the needs of major local employers like Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and the construction sector. “We’ve collaborated closely with Algonquin College to develop programs that equip students with the skills needed in radiation measurement, carpentry, and construction,” he states. This cooperation extends beyond traditional education into areas crucial for the community’s economic health, such as housing construction.

“In light of the housing shortages, we’ve also engaged with potential investors interested in establishing a modular home manufacturing plant in our region,” Emon reveals. This early-stage discussion involves Algonquin College to ensure the local workforce can meet new industry demands, illustrating a proactive approach to economic development and job creation.

Wybou adds to the discussion by detailing the role of the Renfrew and Lanark Labour Market Group, which acts as a nexus for employment services in the region. “This initiative, managed by Algonquin College, includes an extensive job board that aggregates listings across various platforms, making job searches more accessible for residents,” he explains.

Additionally, Wybou discusses the local immigration partnership managed by Algonquin College, which plays a dual role in supporting newcomers and enriching the local labor pool. “This program helps integrate immigrants into our community, providing them with essential resources and support while also promoting Renfrew and Lanark as desirable destinations for those looking to relocate from larger urban areas,” he states.

 

Renfrew County’s Future

As Renfrew County enters the upcoming year, the leadership lays out a set of strategic priorities that respond to immediate needs and envision sustainable growth. Emon starts by discussing the critical need for continued development of Highway 417, a significant infrastructural element influencing the county’s connectivity and economic development.

“The extension of Highway 417 beyond Shield Drive is crucial for us, and it’s a project we’re watching closely,” he says. He expresses concern about potential funding shifts due to other large-scale projects in Ontario, which might impact the resources allocated to Renfrew County. “We’re eagerly awaiting a firm commitment from the province as this expansion is vital for our local and regional connectivity,” he adds.

On healthcare, Emon highlights a unique virtual initiative responding to a critical shortage of family doctors. “Our Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre is a significant step towards addressing healthcare accessibility,” he explains. This innovative service provides residents without a family doctor access to medical consultations and prescriptions, a vital service in rural areas.

Emon also highlights the need for adequate infrastructure to support an increasingly home-based workforce. “If we’re encouraging people to work from home, we need to ensure our infrastructure can support this shift,” he notes. This includes considerations for zoning changes to accommodate home offices and community facilities like childcare.

Lastly, he reflects on the broader challenges of ensuring equitable funding for rural areas compared to urban centers. “We need to ensure that funding formulas and infrastructure investments are fair and consider the unique needs of regions like ours,” he asserts. The disparity in funding allocation, especially evident in responses to grant applications, underscores the necessity for ongoing advocacy and engagement with higher levels of government.

As Renfrew County circumnavigates these complex issues, the focus remains on strategic planning and proactive management to foster a resilient and thriving community. The leadership’s commitment to addressing both immediate needs and long-term goals positions the county to manage current challenges and capitalize on future opportunities.

*Photo credits: Ottawa Valley Tourist Association and the County of Renfrew

AT A GLANCE

Renfrew County

What: A regional government area focusing on community development and economic growth

Where: Ontario, Canada

Website: https://www.countyofrenfrew.on.ca/en/index.aspx

PREFERRED VENDORS

Magellan Aerospace – https://magellan.aero/

Steeped in over 70 years of history, the Haley division of Magellan Aerospace has been located in Renfrew County since 1952.

As a manufacturer of precision aluminum and magnesium sand castings supplying the aerospace industry worldwide, our people, products, technical expertise, and continuous pursuit of improvement are the foundation of our industry reputation as a premier aerospace sand casting supplier. While holding AS 9100 and ISO 14001 certifications ensures that our management systems comply with industry requirements, our various NADCAP special processing certifications allow us to fully complete our products internally without need for external processing.

Growth is certainly in the future of the Haley division as the aerospace sand casting industry is capacity constrained and Magellan has set a strategic initiative to expand on its sand casting capacity. We are charting a future growth path that potentially would result in an increase of our activities in Renfrew County by a factor of fifty percent. The associated required employment increase from our current level of 460 members will contribute in many ways towards the economic development of the area. If you are interested in contributing to our future growth, see our contact info.

KI Canada Inc. – https://www.ki.com/products/category/

KI Canada does more than manufacturing furniture. We’ve been listening. Learning. Helping our customers create unique and inspiring spaces. Not simply because that’s our business. But because that’s how we can make a difference in the lives our customers, our own valued people, and the community we all call home.

Greenwood Paving – www.greenwoodpaving.ca

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