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Summerside’s now-defunct regional development corporation may be due for a comeback.
For 47 years the Summerside Regional Development Corporation (SRDC) was an active player in the business scene within the community, but it was dissolved in early 2018 by the then Liberal government.
Now, P.E.I.’s new Progressive Conservative government is examining the possibility of either bringing back SRDC or replacing it with something comparable.
A spokesperson for the Department of Economic Growth stated in an email that some early conversations are underway on the file.
“We are currently in consultation with various stakeholders and organizations in Summerside to determine the best path going forward.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that the four regional economic development councils that the previous administration set up to take on some of the responsibilities of local development corporations are no longer operating.
“They are currently under review,” according to the department.
The old SRDC was jointly owned by the province, the City of Summerside and the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce. In 2017 the province announced its intention to offer the other two shareholders buyouts and then shut down the corporation. It took some time but that eventually happened in 2018.
The same thing was supposed to happen to Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) but never did. It is still operating and some capital area organizations are campaigning to either revitalize it or replace it with something similar.
In June Premier Dennis King said that a task force was being struck between the province and the communities of Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall to talk about expanding the scope of a revitalized CADC, but made no mention of SRDC.
Thane Smallwood, president of the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce, said both his organization and the Forward Summerside group of which it is a part have had some preliminary talks locally about bringing back SRDC or something like it.
There have been no formal negotiations with the province, said Smallwood, but there does seem to be a local interest for something to take up SRDC’s legacy.
“There’s certainly the desire, the thought, the will, to have some type of structure replace what SRDC used to do – which is economic development and or job growth, those types of things,” said Smallwood.
Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart also said that he’s had informal discussions with provincial government representatives about replacing SRDC. He would like to see something more formal be arranged.
“I would imagine it’s getting to the point where they want to have a chat with us about it – and we’d like to have a chat with them about it,” said Stewart.
Whatever model of organization ends up replacing SRDC, local businessman Dan Kutcher urges caution and a lot of forethought.
Kutcher is a co-owner of South Central Kitchen and Provisions and past president of the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce. He was president of the latter group while it was negotiating the buyout of its SRDC shares.
He is not convinced that another regional development corporation is what Summerside needs to move forward economically.
“What the city needs, and what the province can do to facilitate that, is in a lot of ways just to create the environment and then let the business owners take care of doing business,” said Kutcher.
“P.E.I. is a small enough place that I don’t really understand why you need a second level of administrative burden in order to develop commercial properties or do whatever you need to do in the community. I don’t know why the department of economic development isn’t just doing that,” he added.
SRDC was originally founded in 1971 with a vague mandate to use mostly public funds to leverage economic development in areas where private developers might not be willing to chance their own money.
A provincially commissioned report on SRDC and CADC released in 2016 showed that both organizations had, over time, evolved away from being property developers and become more property managers focused on survival rather than moving on to new projects.
Former premier Wade MacLauchlan said at that time that the mandates of both organizations needed to be renewed.