Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow’s Opportunities
A comprehensive look at Woodstock’s strategic vision for future success and prosperity
Urban development is not merely about erecting towering structures or expanding city limits; it’s a light interplay of vision and execution and requires collaboration amongst all levels of government.
At the pinnacle of this orchestration stands visionary leadership, laying the foundations for sustainable growth, fostering a thriving business environment, and ensuring the well-being of its residents.
Strategic city planning is the cornerstone, where meticulous attention to infrastructure development, from robust transportation networks to cutting-edge technological integration, creates a winning foundation.
Equally crucial is the encouragement of a diverse economic landscape, attracting businesses beyond traditional sectors and nurturing innovation. On the micro-level, the vibrancy of neighborhoods, the accessibility of amenities, and the preservation of cultural heritage contribute to the quality of life that defines a city.
So the question here is: what does such a city look like in reality? The answer can be found in southwestern Ontario, Oxford County, in the booming city of Woodstock.
Success for this city is not measured merely in economic metrics but in the palpable sense of community, where residents proudly engage in city life, where businesses flourish, and where cultural diversity is celebrated.
Leaders like Mayor Jerry Acchione and his team of committed professionals have managed to create an ecosystem where the highest levels of governance align seamlessly with the everyday experiences of its citizens, resulting in a harmonious and prosperous cityscape.
The triumph of Woodstock resonates in its ability to inspire, captivate, and offer an unparalleled quality of life to those fortunate enough to call it home.
A Friendly City of Development
Woodstock, often referred to as the “friendly city,” takes pride in being an excellent place to live and do business. It maintains a strategic location at the crossroads of southwestern Ontario, inviting all to explore its many prospects.
Mayor Acchione emphasizes the city’s openness to new patrons and businesses, saying, “We love attracting new businesses to the city, and we welcome anyone to come and check us out and see what we have to offer.”
Currently, the list of what the city offers is growing at a significant pace, as Woodstock is in the middle of what could be described as an exciting growth spurt.
“Right now, we’re experiencing such huge growth… [and] we’re investing to be the location for businesses to come to,” says Mayor Acchione, highlighting the ongoing significant investments in infrastructure that benefits both residential and commercial interests.
The city is expanding residential areas with hard infrastructure, sewers and roads, as well as expanding parks and recreational amenities that meet the changing demographics of the community. It has also opened new industrial and (business) parks, showcasing a commitment to being “shovel-ready” for businesses choosing Woodstock as their location.
These motions are all occurring within a larger goal of diversifying economic development for the city, as Woodstock’s business development focus thus far has largely dealt with advanced manufacturing.
Back in 2008, Toyota became one of the milestone businesses to set up shop in Woodstock, and naturally, this skewed the city’s commercial environment more towards the automotive industry.
As a result, current efforts focus on moving beyond the traditional automotive sector, with the goal here yet again being diversification. The recent opening of the city’s newest business parks reflects the city’s appeal to a diverse range of businesses.
In fact, the quick occupancy of non-auto-related businesses even further shows that this was a move that Woodstock’s commercial ecosystem has been waiting on.
Development Commissioner Len Magyar has noticed a pattern of attraction of larger private developers, and he believes that the difference in how they make their investments will be the catalyst to the (business) diversity the city is cultivating.
“They’re more motivated by the sale price of their land and the ROI,” Magyar says, referring to private developers. Because of their focus on ROI and making profitable investments, the results that they produce could easily surpass what the city typically looks to create on its own. Typically, municipalities would seek developments that can support long-term employment. This new development perspective expands opportunities beyond just supporting employment and could bring in new waves of private investment.
Revitalizing the Downtown Experience
When a city is expanding commercially, it’s important to also consider the residential experience. The city has long had a strategic focus on downtown development, and has, in recent years, concentrated a renewed effort towards increasing the number of people who live in the downtown area.
Logically, a higher-density population means more feet on the sidewalks. This increases the level of demand for businesses in the area, particularly consumable businesses like butcher shops, produce stores, and niche retailers, as they all require a locally present residency to thrive.
The city has developed a number of initiatives included in Community Improvement Plan programs that incentivize and support storefront improvements, residential conversions, and grants for increased taxation benefits due to improvements.
The Workforce Development Partnership of which the city is a key player (Chamber of Commerce) also plays a crucial role in workforce development through initiatives like engaging with high schools and hosting job fairs that focus on both attracting and retaining talent.
Lastly, there is a small business center that frequently advises and offers small grants to help small businesses progress, and this is all to ensure that all of Woodstock’s commercial space is being used effectively.
According to Chief Administrative Officer David Creery, there are assets downtown that are being underutilized, and the plan has always been to proactively change that.
“We want to make sure that whatever we own, we’re using to the fullest, and if we’re not, then we need to get (it) into the hands of those who will,” Creery explains.
Woodstock’s leadership understands that every thriving city needs a heart if it is to truly be considered “alive.”. So among them exists an open and ongoing commitment to creating a vibrant downtown, which is further evident in the City’s plans to improve its streetscape and expand its downtown Civic Square.
“We’ll be undertaking a master plan on how we can convert this space into a multi-purpose, civic space that can host events in the heart of our [community] and bring in more people on a regular basis,” Creery confirms.
Mayor Acchione and his team want to make Woodstock’s residents feel comfortable and make the city more attractive to them as a place to explore, dine, work, and play.
The city is so committed to the cause that Council even created a dedicated Downtown Development role that focuses entirely on development and activities in the downtown core.
So far, things are looking good, as this new role has managed to attract the attention of both younger entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs to the area.
Redefining Future Residency
With all of these efforts combined, one thing is clear: Woodstock actively supports local businesses and wants to foster an environment where families can enjoy their experience.
And what better environment is there to cultivate than the most fundamental family environment there is?
The home environment.
“Since the beginning of 2023, we’ve draft-plan approved 3,500 new residential housing units… we want to ensure that Woodstock has a wide range of housing choices for all families,” Mayor Acchione explains.
Ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing is a priority for Woodstock City Council. The city is committed to working with private and public partners to increase the stock of a range of housing options to meet different families’ needs. As Woodstock’s workforce continues to shift, the need for ample housing will continue to grow and evolve.
As residential units are being actively constructed, city leadership is also tackling the issue from the angle of supporting the workforce with a development partnership that aims to keep young talent within the region through strategic partnerships and initiatives that encourage working locally.
In fact, some particularly successful initiatives involve getting young students educated about things like in-demand trades and robotics.
Ultimately, city leaders recognize the importance of maintaining Woodstock’s small-town charm. They aim to preserve the friendly atmosphere and the nostalgic downtown feel by providing support in key areas that flow well together.
Areas that, if focused on, will produce the desired outcome.
As Mayor Acchione outlined, Woodstock’s immediate priorities revolve around housing. The city aims to continue its strategic approach to housing development, focusing on infill projects and maximizing property usage to cater to various housing needs, from affordable housing to single-family units, townhomes, and apartments.
Woodstock’s holistic approach to growth, coupled with a commitment to preserving its unique identity, positions the city as an inviting destination for businesses and residents alike.
The strategic vision outlined by its leaders sets the stage for continued success, making Woodstock the ever-thriving community to see in the heart of southwestern Ontario.
AT A GLANCE
The City of Woodstock, Ontario
What: A thriving city strategically positioning itself for future success and prosperity.
Where: Oxford County, Southwestern Ontario
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