Times have always seemed to be tough in my hometown as far back as I can remember. For my entire adult life I have seen Amherstburg lose things, SKD, Allied/General Chemical, Honeywell, Seagrams/Diageo production facility and gain very very little.
I grew up in Amherstburg and my family history here goes back two more generations; My grandfather Vic Nedin sat on council in the 50’s, my Uncle William Gibb was mayor during the 80’s and 90’s, my parents Michael and Cindy, teachers at the community high school, and my uncle Ron Nedin was a union leader with Seagrams. I grew up wanting nothing more than to leave this town and never look back, and for about a decade I did just that. However, I am back and I’ve been back for two years starting my own business and creating this blog which I feel celebrates much of what there is to love about this place.
I am not going to go over the well documented history of the current financial situation, in which our hometown is currently embroiled. I will leave it at this, our leadership is a embarrassing pile of failure that should not only be shunned but held legally responsible for their crimes against the taxpayers of this town. With that said, the next year in Amherstburg should be about assessing the damage that has been caused by these leaders and more importantly developing a vision going forward for this town. A vision divergent from those who have held this town back with their greed, incompetence, and myopia, people like; Wayne Hurst, Carl Gibb, John Sutton, Rosa White, Tony Di Bartolomeo, Ron Sutherland, Robert Pillon, Lou Zarlenga, Carolyn Davies, Mike Phipps and Frank Pizzuto.
What I present to you right here, right now, is what our reprobate of a mayor may term as “Negativity” or “Naysaying”. I call it a dose of what this town needs, a not so gentle reminder that this place can be great if we all have the guts to question those who want the honour of representing us and to support those trying to make this town better.
We need to first and foremost be resigned to a very clear fact, Amherstburg is looking at a future of disadvantage. I am not going to sugar coat this, we are in debt up to our ears, we are a regional joke, we are compared to Detroit for the wanton mismanagement and incompetence at town hall. Worst of all, there is no easy way out. We have to change.
Sure we have assets that we could try to sell, but this is just one of the many situations where our town is at a disadvantage. Any negotiation that we enter into we must first acknowledge that we are at a strategic hole that will bring many callers with many proposals most of which will look to exploit our situation. What we need is strong savvy leadership, who can stay the course and not bow to public pressure to take the seemingly easy way out.
Entergus is just the first example of a scavenger come to pick our bones. Look at the situation from the point of view of Entergus. We see a town who’s publicly now admitting that they are in dire financial straights and they have a considerable share in a dividend bearing asset. We also see a totally founded distrust of the town leadership by the public, the fear of a huge tax hike coming, and an election on the horizon. How do you leverage this asset from the town? First you make an offer of a large sum of money for our shares in Essex Power. You make this offer in a way that is public and loud, and you frame the offer as being “above market value” which is a pretty much unverifiable. You then put a deadline on the offer knowing that there is no possible way the town could have a proper fiscal snapshot within that timeline. You wait for the media to run with this story, you wait for them to sensationalize, to rile up the public. You have people in the town frothing at the mouth thinking this bandaid on the axe wound may save them a few hundred dollars at tax time but it’s just smoke and mirrors. You wait for the public to motivate the council to seek you out. Then you flip enough of the council to pry away the asset. You’ve gotten what you wanted all along and you’ve made the people of Amherstburg think it was their idea.
This is what I talk about when I say we are disadvantaged. We are a mark to every bilker, every sketchy businessperson, every developer with a “vision” but without the funds to make it happen. We need people who will stand up and make the right decisions for the taxpayers of this town. We need people who are not in denial about the disadvantages we are faced with, and we need people who will help this town punch above it’s weight. Skeptics, naysayers, obstructionists are what we need, but without ideas all that is for naught.
As a 31 year old, what I see in Amherstburg is a lot of people clutching to a lot of old ideas. Are we going to have lots of new factory jobs coming into the town? No, let it go, the economy we grew up with is gone. Stop comparing the past with what is going on now, because it just closes your mind to new opportunities. We need to move on, we need to find a hook or multiple hooks so that this town can find itself again. If we do not do this, this town is going to die with your generation. The first 2/3rds of this article was about our lack of leadership. This part is about all of you, the people of Amherstburg. It’s about letting go of a past that your children and grandchildren will never experience. It’s about being open to new avenues for this town and supporting those with the guts to try something different. And if you can’t handle that, it’s about shutting up and getting out of the way.
For some reason there are people who work for this town who seem to think it is still a tourist destination. Those people are delusional and should be replaced immediately. Absolutely nothing about the town makes me or anyone else want to spend money within it’s core. This needs to change and we must figure out a way to integrate this change with the resources available.
We are at the literal front end of the fastest growing wine region in the country and other than a wine festival at the end of our tourist season we do little to nothing to tap into that industry. We have three wineries within our town limits who pay huge municipal taxes but I would dare you all to name them off the top of your head. Our eateries with the exception of Ricardo’s are forgettable, the downtown is barely a shopping district and our town has little to no infrastructure or marketing supporting the wine industry. We need to invest in and support those who have the will, knowledge and ability to make Amherstburg the face of Essex County Wine. Why not a brewery in town? Why not a licensed bar and eatery, working as an advocate and partner of the local wineries. Yes this is seasonal, yes this is a small piece of the pie, but we need a hook, we need a reason for people to come and spend money in this town. Food and Wine give us a low cost punchers chance of bringing tourist dollars and creating resurgent downtown core.
Along the same lines, the cultivation of community gardens could be another way for town property to serve multiple purposes and generate revenue. The horticultural society in Amherstburg is another great point of pride, why not use that expertise to grow food as well as flowers? What if local eateries pooled their money to invest in cultivating and renting gardens on town property to use in their eateries? Or allowing the Amherstburg Mission to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, on town property, and either sell them for profit or use them to feed those they help. There are so many different ways we could tweak how we use the resources we already have to benefit our citizens and cultivate pride in our town.
Another thing we need to continue is the investment in alternative energy. If there is an industry that will take us into the future it is alternative energy and we have had the foresight to invest. This is one thing we should be proud of and commend our leaders on. We have taken the big first steps in making our town more sustainable, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to continue the expansion and investment in these technologies and facilities but also ensure that it’s a local job creator. Using town owned property and buildings as a platform for the generation of energy, solar and wind, will allow these public owned assets to generate revenue. This also allows us to set and example for our residents to live in cleaner, greener, and more innovative ways. The more we continue to lead the charge in the realm alternative energy the better chance we have to create jobs in this growth industry. It’s better than clawing and scratching at the past.
If you are still reading this I don’t know if I should thank you or apologize. This hasn’t been easy to read I’m sure, I feel like I started with a bit of a bang, then I transitioned into a little depressing, then I actively antagonized you in the innovation section. However, I hope that this final paragraph to wins you back. I think there is an opportunity in Amherstburg to create a new economy, an economy based on attracting entrepreneurs who want to use the assets we already have. What those entrepreneurs need is the support of the people of our town, if local business can be sustained on local support then it will begin to attract support from beyond our town limits. Stop shopping at Walmart. Take 2 coffees a week that you would normally purchase at MacDonalds or Tim Hortons, and buy the coffee from the good folks at Downtown Espresso Cafe. Take a short drive try a local wine from Sprucewood Shores, Sanson Estates or D’Angelo instead of your normal purchase at the LCBO. Young people, take one less trip to downtown Windsor, a month, for drinks and go have your night out at Lord Amherst. Take an extra 15 minutes out of your week and visit your local butcher at Romano’s or Wigle’s Gourmet Butcher Shop. The bottom line, take an extra few minutes out of your day and spend your money locally.
I know that you are angry at what has happened to Amherstburg, I’m angry. And I know that you feel like you cannot change things simply with a vote every four year, so I say you first start voting with your dollar. Every day you can make that vote count for a local business person shows prospective business people that this town cares about being better. Amherstburg has lost it’s way in that regard, we have traded our relationships with local business for large developments that have not benefited the town’s economy. We have lost the uniqueness that this town should be pushing for, any shithole can have a Walmart, we need to rise above that mentality and separate ourselves. What I want from all of this is for the people of Amherstburg to step up, to choose leaders that will fight to change how this town approaches its future. If you have an idea of how we can turn things around, please leave a comment.