The water in Kemptfelt Bay will soon freeze over, but economic growth in Barrie continues to flow significantly. With unemployment near a record low, the city is no longer treading water like it was not so long ago.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who dove into municipal politics in 2006 when he was elected city councillor, reflected on the past year. The former urban planner has been the city’s mayor since 2010. He’s thrilled with what council has been able to achieve in 2017 and eager to see the city undertake its plans for 2018.
“It’s been a long climb back from the financial crisis and recession of 2009, but in the last couple of years it’s started to gain momentum,” said Lehman, reflecting on the state of Barrie.
Lehman’s remarks stem from the number of new businesses settling in Barrie, along with the new industrial buildings springing up on streets such as Mapleview, Welland, and King. In addition, there was a waiting list of employers wanting to partake at a recent city job fair. Lehman noted that the city’s unemployment rate is now under five percent. Barrie had a record year in 2016 for industrial construction and Lehman expects the final data for 2017 to also be significant.
Municipal council is trying to promote the diversification of Barrie’s economy in a range of sectors. In addition to more manufacturers, Lehman would like to see more tech companies in the city.
“Our vision is a Barrie where there are jobs for our young people who don’t want to commute and, instead, be closer to home,” he said. Following the dramatic increase in real estate prices across the province, which have now leveled off, Lehman is pleased that the city has made progress in partnership with Simcoe County toward providing more affordable housing. “We were able to see a lot of new units constructed and new projects move forward,” he added.
Lehman is also delighted that the waterfront will soon be completed, including a new artificial ice rink, which will be a basketball court in the summer next to the beach volleyball area.
Looking ahead to 2018, Lehman has much on his plate. In the spirit of efficiency, council needs to modernize the city’s operations and services to “deliver services better and save some money.” Early in the new year, council will be presented with a proposal to convert Barrie Central Collegiate into the WA Fisher concert hall and conference center. Lehman also acknowledges infrastructure spending needs to reflect a balance between overdue maintenance and new needs.
“We’re spending about $35 million a year on fixing the infrastructure we’ve got,” he said. “We need to be spending well more than twice that if we’re to do it properly. That requires us, slowly over time, to re-allocate resources, to find more we can get from the provincial and federal governments. And to make choices not to build ‘this new thing’ until we do more to fixing the roads, pipes, buildings we’ve got. We have to maintain what we’ve got and that means tackling the infrastructure deficit.”
When the water in Kemptfelt Bay flows again this spring, Barrie residents will be stepping outside more often, the sounds of summer will be around the corner, and a fall municipal election only a few months away. Contenders to unseat Lehman are still unknown. They’ll have to consider whether Barrie residents, enjoying the city’s progress, will want to rock the boat.