OPINION: Regardless of budget fears innovation is a smart investment

Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Regardless of budget fears innovation is a smart investment

This year’s budget season has been a turbulent one. Fears about MPAC settlements and passing on a tax increase to residential property owners has created an atmosphere of belt tightening around City Council.

As the ultimate custodians of tax dollars, Council should never waste a cent, but there are always things that should be invested in, even during lean times.

The investments that pay the highest dividends are education and innovation. Over the past year alone, Cornwall has made big leaps forward in innovation. Code Heroes has really gotten off the ground and their coding and tech classes are growing in popularity. Just last month, the Cornwall Innovation Centre opened and promises to be a major generator of growth in Cornwall.

Kelly Bergeron, founder of Code Heroes, has said that the City has funded some of her hackathons. This is a great start, but a dedicated commitment of investment in innovation now will bring future success.

More and more factory jobs, and warehouse jobs are going to become automated in the future and as a city, Cornwall needs to start thinking how it can innovate a new economy now while things are relatively stable.

Bergeron mentioned a few things that the City can start doing now that would help promote this future economy. The City could actively court tech companies to hire employees in Cornwall who can work remotely, or even encourage them to move their offices here. The City had success last year bringing Xplornet to Cornwall and hopefully this is a good sign of things to come.

She also suggested the idea of having a CIO, Chief Innovation Officer, for the City of Cornwall. This could be a person who promotes innovation projects throughout the City and coordinates innovation projects with the private sector.

Another project that the Code Heroes has been thinking of is publicly accessible wireless internet in Cornwall’s Downtown.
This especially, I believe, would be a strong and beneficial commitment from the City. Having internet access in this day and age is a must. It allows us to access infinite information, co-operate with each other to generate new ideas and deliver those ideas to the community.

Bob Peters, Cornwall’s Division Manager for Economic Development said that there are no capital projects related to innovation planned for 2017 that he is aware of, but pointed out that in the past, the city has invested in regional projects that lead to better fiber optic coverage in the area.
He explained that the downtown wireless idea has been considered and that there have been instances of extending internet coverage in Cornwall and the area.

“In recent years, public Wi-Fi hot zones have been added to the Complex and the Benson Centre by the private sector, at little to no cost to the City,” he said in a statement to Seaway News. “A similar arrangement may see the addition of a Wi-Fi zone in part of Lamoureux Park this summer.”

It is great that the private sector is willing to deliver services like free Wi-Fi in public areas, but I think that during this budget season Council should make becoming a leader in local innovation a priority.

Kelly Bergeron explained that now is the time to start preparing for the future.

“We need to start preparing for the future workforce, there is no question about it,” she said. “Forty percent of manufacturing and production jobs are at risk of being automated.”

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