There’s No Place Like Home – A Report and Musings from the CBC Windsor Town Hall Meeting

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending the first CBC Town Hall Meeting at the Capitol.

The meeting was really interesting. The event was about an hour long and included a panel and video interviews. The panel itself was quite impressive, consisting of Mayor Eddie Francis, Coun. Al Maghnieh, marketing professor Vincent Georgie, Michael Lomonaco of Grand Rapids, and University of Windsor Assistant Provost David Bussiere.

During the discussion, you had the option of tweeting or Facebook messaging @CBCWindsor questions or comments and some of them got displayed on the big screen. You can check out what went up here.

I think if this meeting had a theme song, it would be called “This is a Great Place for Young Entrepreneurs” as that’s what I kept hearing again and again throughout the night. The meeting’s focus was mostly about jobs; there were videos from “millenials” (aka those from Generation Y, born from the 70s to the early 2000s) who had started up their own businesses, particularly the Priced Green stores and a massage clinic on Ottawa street. There was a lot of talk about how Windsor is a safe haven for young entrepreneurs as cost of living is low and therefore risk in investments are also low. The presenter from Grand Rapids, Michael Lomonaco echoed this sentiment when he talked about how successful his business, a technology firm, has become and how Windsor can emulate this success. Another theme of the night was white collar jobs. Windsor apparently doesn’t have enough of them, especially in the downtown core, and steps are being taken to fix that.

There was some talk about the public transportation system. Someone asked via Twitter why exactly the streetcar system had been abandoned in Windsor, and there was no good answer. Someone mentioned that if we did bring the streetcar system back, it would be mostly for tourists. I disagree. I believe it was either Greg Layson (who was responsible for tweeting the event) or Al Maghnieh who said that there are talks in the works between Transit Windsor and the city for transit reform. I really hope this happens as it would be amazing to see transit reform, especially with all these talks of revitalizing the downtown core. However, discussion of transit was sort of out of context for this meeting. Transit in Windsor really deserves a meeting itself, and it wasn’t fair to try to address the issue on Tuesday.

The amalgamation of the library and art gallery was discussed, mostly by Mayor Eddie Francis. He mentioned that bringing the arena downtown was a strategic move and was responsible for the expansion of the casino and Windsor Water World. The aquatic centre was hailed as a new way to bring tourism downtown.

And finally, discussion of arts. In short, there wasn’t much. A few people pointed out that there wasn’t much to do in Windsor in way of concerts. It was mentioned that there weren’t a lot of arts driven events happening in Windsor. Another point was made that there isn’t communication about city reform happening in the city. Tom Lucier tweeted ” there already ARE dialogue driven events…this is the plague of our city…cluelessness about what already happens!” He’s right. But besides that, all I heard was that “Windsor is a great place for artists because it’s cheap to live here.” Sure, it’s cheap to live here, but it’s really difficult to live as an artist because there are no studios and there is no funding. It’s great that it’s cheap here but if there is not access to a vibrant artist community with materials and funds and means to sell, artists are not going to come here.

I have to say I was disappointed with how the night ended. There was no discussion of any of the presentation. The panellists presented and that was it; there was no question period for any of the presenters. Although there were video cameras that interviewed some of the audience at the end of the night, it wasn’t enough.

Here’s the thing: about 200 people attended this town hall event. People like Shane Potvin (Spotvin), Tom Lucier, Rino Bortolin, a bunch of university students, and many more people who are making a difference in Windsor that I didn’t see or don’t know the names of. And a majority of the people attending the event were young. I know what the city is doing for Windsor, but does the city know what we’re doing for Windsor? The tweets weren’t enough. The town hall meeting had 200 voices that weren’t heard, who surely had great ideas or were at least interested in getting involved because they came to the Capitol on a dreary night with half the streets in Windsor flooded. I’m sure the audience at least had interesting questions, but there was no dialogue. That’s a complete shame.

In addition to this, the dialogue seemed to be all about people who are just graduating university. I don’t think that’s where we should be convincing people to stay in Windsor. Half of my friends in high school hated Windsor because “there was nothing to do” (whether or not this is the case, however, is another essay). Selling Windsor as a haven for young entrepreneurs is not going to fix that.

However, I certainly had an idea in my head of what the meeting would be. There was nothing that told me that there would be critical discussion, or and discussion at all during the meeting. So in part, my disappointment is my fault and not the meeting’s.

All in all I think the event was great. I think we need to have more, but I think if the audience is just told what is happening, nothing is going to get done. I could have gone online and seen what the city of Windsor is doing with the aquatic centre or the library. We need input from a variety of community members to make this city a better place.

Comments
18 Responses to “There’s No Place Like Home – A Report and Musings from the CBC Windsor Town Hall Meeting”
  1. Very insightful Sara. Good analysis.

  2. Kevin says:

    Yes very well done, and nice way to write this; I enjoyed reading it. I agree with your analysis of the situation. I think discussion needs to be more open to those within the city, doing to work, for others to understand what a fully involved person in that field (whether it be a high school student, graduating university artist, bar owner, musician, baker, etc…) has to say about what really needs to happen.
    You are right about the online thing, and how we don’t need to be continually told what’s already going to happen, but what needs to happen- from the mouths of the people in it.

  3. Kevin says:

    FROM THE MOUTHS OF THE PEOPLE IN IT should be the new talk series hosted at capitol…featuring more of the mouths of the people in the city

    • Justin says:

      We should take on this project — something like an ongoing conversation format. I know Sara and I spoke briefly about it after the town hall, but we should pick it up and see how we might be able to do this.

      I think the biggest challenge is going to be figuring out what these conversations need to do. Last night at DX, Michelle and I were talking to Tim Maly about an idea engine (or something like this, I’m sure I’m forgetting the name), found it — they call it an Idea Jam, but the gist of it was that a group could ask three questions about a problem they were having and the people in the room would be broken up into groups to brainstorm solutions. This could be a great fit for making these conversations actionable.

  4. Owen says:

    Can’t seem to comment on this, I get a blank screen when I hit submit. Maybe my comment was too long?

    • Justin says:

      Owen, That’s weird… this short comment went through, but we don’t have any filter or anything that should limit your ability to comment.

  5. Owen says:

    There seems to be a limit to the number of characters in a comment here, I kinda wrote a book heh, trying to break it up into sections.

    I have to weigh in here, as I am one of Windsor’s biggest cheerleaders and for years have been advocating for a lot of the points you made here. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend this event but I listened to the replay and read the entire twitter history on CBC’s website.

    Here goes.

    • Owen says:

      JOBS

      White collar. No two words better describe what we need in Windsor. If you read any of Richard Florida’s writings about the Creative Class, every example of vibrant arts communities he gives exist in cities with vast white collar sectors. Workers work in office towers and in high concentration in downtowns and core areas, patronize local restaurants for lunch, and spend evenings in small shops, art galleries, pubs and other local businesses. Whereas Windsor is a lunch-bucket town, blue collar jobs are largely drive-to-work types of setups, and factories are in isolated areas of Windsor, employees don’t have the luxury of being able to frequent local businesses (and of course, Arts establishments).

      As a student at the University, I’m often told by professors and advisors that upon graduation, my best bet for a job is London, Montreal, Toronto or Ottawa. Why not Windsor? No employers here. Toronto has banks, Ottawa has the public sector, London has finance, Windsor has a sliver of a white collar industry.

      Comparing some data from the 2006 census (I wish the 2011 census data was available), here’s a breakdown by industry as a percentage of the workforce population:

      Manufacturing
      Windsor 24.4%
      London 15.0%
      Toronto 13.4%

      Business Services
      Windsor 13.6%
      London 17.1%
      Toronto 23.9%

      Finance and real estate
      Windsor 4.2%
      London 7.0%
      Toronto 9.4%

      While these numbers can’t perfectly quantify the so-called “Blue Collar” and “White Collar” workforces, they illustrate a few things:

      What we know about Toronto:
      – vibrant downtown
      – flourishing arts community
      – DEMAND for mass transit
      – high concentration of white collar workforce in the downtown core

      What we know about London:
      – commuter city with an advanced transit system
      – significant arts community
      – populated downtown
      – high concentration of white collar workforce in core areas

      What we know about Windsor:
      – commuter city with an under-utilized transit system
      – small but determined arts community
      – largely vacant downtown
      – low concentration of entire workforce

      At the CBC event “Mayor says the city has to be the most attractive to investors.”

      But we aren’t. Windsor should be positioned to offer absurd value for investors and white-collar companies willing to set up shop here. Incentives should be in place to dramatically attract and retain white-collar employers through reduced municipal tax levies, huge breaks on utilities, and naturally, low-leases at office towers. But such incentives do not exist.

      How do we expect to have jobs in Windsor when there are no employers in Windsor and nothing is being done to attract these employers?

      • Justin says:

        Owen, I think the issue was with Akismet thinking your stats were spam, really sorry about that!

        Anyways, you’ve made some really good points here, and I think you picked up on some of Sara’s best criticisms — essentially that we’re not considering some things as important as other things, and yet it might be those other things that actually make the difference in keeping young, talented people here.

        I think that Windsor needs to be pitching in much different ways to different demographics. It’s very difficult to imagine recent graduates wanting to stay given any number of realities (though the amount of effort pushing Windsor as a retirement hub is near the top of my list). It’s hard to imagine keeping some of the most interesting people around when they might not necessarily be able to read the possibilities of this city alongside a big pitch to make Windsor a retirement capital (for example), or to be able to consider what they do as white or blue collar, but something else entirely. It’s about trying to talk through the range of opportunities unique to this city, of which there are many, but from a different perspective. If you weren’t connected so deeply to the city with your family, Owen, what would you need to stay? Do you need tax breaks for being an entrepreneur under 30? Do you need space? Do you need talent?

        Maybe it’s about coming up with this list of things we really need, rather than trying to negotiate with whatever’s given to us.

        • Owen says:

          I think the crucial thing for retaining local graduates in Windsor absolutely has to be jobs that are of a parity with what programs are our local post secondary educational institutions are pumping out.

          Looking at some more statistics again, the University of Windsor for instance lists the following (in order of greatest enrollment) as their largest programs — by enrollment numbers — a little extrapolation suggests that these are naturally what people graduating are looking for jobs in:

          Arts & Social Sciences 4,911
          Science 1,529
          Business 1,392
          Nursing 826
          Engineering 763
          Human Kinetics 718
          Education 690
          Law 606
          Inter-faculty 210

          I think we can plainly say that while all of these subject areas may not qualify as “white collar” to the pureness of the term, we can certainly say that they are primarily NOT aligned with Windsor’s largest concentration of workforce (Manufacturing at 24.4%).

          Logically then, what do we need? Employers that fit these graduates’ skills and diplomas.

          Again I see the problem is that very very little is being done to attract employers to Windsor….but why not? Windsor could be the most resource-rich, most up-and-coming employment community in Canada if an effort was made to attract employers. Tax breaks could be established, land and vacancy is available in abundance, access to a major border gateway helps multiple industries interface interchangably, the cost of living is at an all time low, house prices are absurdly affordable (granted a lot of this will change) — simply, we are a LAKE in a desert of inopportunity.

          If any kinds of campaigns need to be produced by various arms-length municipal actors like WorkForce WindsorEssex, by the mayor himself, the Chamber of Commerce or the Windsor Essex Economic Development Commission, these campains need to focus on first securing incentive agreements with the City, and second ought to promote our region to major employers operating in other parts of North America.

          Increase the workforce -> Increase millenial retention -> Increase the population

          and other “problems” like Downtown, underutilized transit, etc. will go away.

          ______

          If I wasn’t so deeply connected here, I, like my peers, would be seeking job opportunities in other cities in Ontario. My choices would truly be to stay here and hope for a job in a microeconomy where job demand exceeds supply, or move away and increase my chances of employment significantly.

          As an entrepreneur, I’m doing okay. Space would be nice. Of interest to note is that having priced out office space in the region, I’ve found that lease rates for regular office space is are mostly on par with, or slightly cheaper than our local business incubation facilities. No fault to the incubation facilities, this is simply a lack of subsidy from the Province.

          Produce a facility like Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation, seek significant funding and tab private office space at $200 a month, and you’d have a flurry of innovation and tenancy. Same goes for an artist co-op and workspace. Right now the prices exceed the price points that entrepreneurs/artists are willing to pay.

          A list would be great. A “pitch” about why Windsor is the best place in Canada to invest broken down Financially, Socially, As An Employer, As A Retiree and As A Student would be better!

  6. Justin says:

    Posted on Owen’s site … some news that MYAC will be organizing a Youth Forum in the new year:

    http://windsorite.ca/2011/12/website-newsletters-to-speak-directly-to-windsor-youth-in-2012/

    Let’s keep an eye out for this.

  7. Shane says:

    Really want to chime in here but on my phone, so many good points here. Will send some thoughts tomorrow.

  8. Rino says:

    There is so much to say and so little time to type. The event itself was disappointing. For many reasons but the main reason is the lack of input or town hall format. It was a lecture more than a discussion. And to top it off the lecture came from a tenured professor, a Mercedes driving city councillor, and the 3rd highest paid mayor in Canada. How much can they empathize with the struggles of the new millennial? not much. It was what it was. Moving on to the better discussion in this thread……

    I have been to countless of these discussions, meetings, day camps, brainstorming sessions etc. They’re great and bring out some great people but we need more. We can’t keep talking. I have said this before but people, young people, millennials, need to become politically involved. I know, I can already see the eyes rolling and the sighs saying they hate politicians but there is not other true avenue to major change in this city. All the great ideas mentioned above by Owen need to be driven by upper level visionaries that have a say at the table. We hear so much about local small businesses that are succeeding but its small in scope. We need JOBS! Good jobs, not call center jobs that enlist zombies and pay them just above minimum wage. Owen displayed some great stats that demonstrate this void that exists in Windsor. The only way to fill that void is to have major change at the top. We need our leaders to be just that…..leaders. We can sit here and complain about the lack of leadership but I would suggest that young peoples’ lack of interest and attendance at the polls renders their opinions useless. In the last municipal election young voter turnout was abysmal, in ward 3 for sure.

    There are so many examples of municipal policies that have a direct effect or lack of effect on the very issues that we discuss, and debate at length. I cannot and will not go into a long political diatribe. People need to step up and understand that making Windsor the place where they want to be has more to do with them than they realize. If they say Windsor sucks its because they suck, because they can;t be bothered to make an effort. Not just talk about it or complain how they can’t do something but to fight and educate themselves on what it takes to make the change to get a place where they can do whatever they put their minds to. (Detroit is a shining example of this) Those are the people I want to stay in Windsor. When those people realize they have a bigger say they will see they have a bigger role to play in exactly the Windsor they want.

    • Owen says:

      I think the issue with our leaders is just that, they are leaders, but there are better leaders. Lester Pearson was a good Prime Minister, but Trudeau was better.

      All of our special city projects, an arena, a marina, an aquatic complex, etc. are nice good projects, but they lack the _greatness_, the special over-the-top charm that we are in dire need of in Windsor. If Windsor City Council wants to spend millions on any one initiative, it should be an initiative to hunt down and coerce employers to set up shop here.

      Point: Windsor requires a more-than-100-percent approach to tackling our local economic woes. Simply showing up or making the most minimal amount of effort to make us shine…just isn’t working anymore.

      I think it’s wonderful that we were named one of the Top 7 Most Intelligent Communities in the world, but…….are we really? How can we be called the “Top” when we have record unemployment? How can we be called the “Top” when we lose thousands of graduates to other “less-than-Top” cities in the world, each year? And what do awards even really mean in the long haul?

      I understand that the Intelligent Community Forum rated us qualitatively, based on our access to Broadband, our Knowledge Workforce, Innovation and other metrics, but while we may have a great amount of success on a per-capita basis, quantitatively we are a tiny pebble hitting a pond. Imagine if Windsor had a vast workforce of knowledge workers, numbering in the 10,000s, we’d surely be on top then.

      Back to our political leadership for a moment: it’s not likely to change anytime soon. If we are going to sell our region, it looks like it’s up to us citizens, the private sector and non-municipally-funded groups to stand up and say INVEST IN WINDSOR.

  9. Kevin says:

    Wow really great discussion.
    I agree with Owen’s comment: “A list would be great. A “pitch” about why Windsor is the best place in Canada to invest broken down Financially, Socially, As An Employer, As A Retiree and As A Student would be better!”

    It makes me think as if the list could be a sort of “pitch”. 2 in 1. I’d be interested to work into this project more. If it is a project?

    • Owen says:

      What would be great would be to do this as a website (employwindsorites dot whatever?), keep it clean and mimimal design-wise, have each of these Pitches as a page, etc. Eventually, if funded by the Province or anything, it could transform into a campaign.

      I do worry however that perhaps investment incentives need to exist before any such pitch has a measure of possibility. It’s likely major growth industries have looked at Windsor and said “wow, no, taxes are just too high” (or insert dealbreaker here). I wonder what the dealbreakers actually are?

      • Justin says:

        That’s a good question, Owen. What’s the “history of deal breakers” for Windsor investment and job creation?

        • Owen says:

          I tried to actually look up some stats about per-capital municipal tax rates for individuals and businesses, but can’t seem to get a lead on anything.

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