In the January 26th edition of the Bracebridge Examiner municipal reform made the headlines. While the article indicates the topic was fully debated 11 years ago and set aside, it is still on the mind of those educated about the issue. While the article suggests there is little duplication between individual municipal responsibilities and the District, it does highlight duplication among municipalities. The point is, there is lost potential for Muskoka when our human and financial resources are divided by seven. Our municipalities relate in a courteous and respectful manner but because of our municipal structure, each have a mandated responsibility to focus their energies and ideas to promote their respective municipalities. The residents of Muskoka, on the other hand, easily move among our municipalities for employment, services, education, culture, and recreation.
What if the municipal boundaries were dropped and all energy focussed on quality of life and community, environmental health and economic development for Muskoka as a whole? What would be the advantage of pooling our strengths and resources?
On the economic front, prosperity and innovation demand regional perspectives. Competition among municipalities is a trademark of rural Ontario. We often refer with fondness to traditional rivalries between sports teams, quality of local services and infrastructure. But in today’s global economy, it is imperative that we assume a vision that extends beyond our municipal boundary. What would result if we brought all of the municipal economic developers, information technology and mapping specialists together in one office? What a powerhouse! The generation of ideas and the ability to innovate and respond to opportunities would grow exponentially. Some ideas are larger than any one municipality can own or maximize. The notion of making Muskoka a centre of excellence in education, for example, is one that pops up consistently. But who has the authority and responsibility to explore the opportunities…. and build the linkages among the formal and non-formal educational organizations and institutions already in Muskoka? How too do we fill the spaces between the efforts of municipalities, community organizations, institutions, and business? Those within the community who have District-wide interests and seek to communicate with public sector leaders face the daunting task of addressing six municipal councils plus the District.
A strong, progressive and coordinated Muskoka is attractive to those considering the option of making this the home for their family or business. The creative economy attracts the ‘footloose’. These are the new economy workers who are attracted by quality of community, cultural vibrancy and an exceptional natural environment. We are blessed with all three. It is important now that we put the structures in place that enables this new economy to flourish.
Municipal signs are popping up across the District. Coffee shop talk has begun and formal all-candidates meetings are just around the corner. What a great opportunity this provides to bring forward the issues that are important to Creative Muskoka supporters, and challenge potential leaders to share their views. With this in mind, the Executive team with the help of Creative Muskoka member Newman Wallis, has prepared a series of questions that highlight some areas of critical interest. These questions relate to topics raised by Creative Muskoka participants at the recent visioning workshop hosted by the District of Muskoka.
* District-wide collaboration: In what ways are you prepared to promote District-wide collaboration in order to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for Muskoka?
* Creative economy: What does the “creative economy” mean to you and in what ways will you support its development in Muskoka?
* Arts and culture as economic base: What role do you envision for arts and culture in Muskoka's economic future?
* Leadership in education: Do you share the dream of making Muskoka an educational leader with world class opportunities for formal and non-formal education?
* Opportunities for youth: While Muskoka's senior population continues to grow, the young and educated are looking beyond Muskoka for career opportunities. What is your position on this situation?
* High priorities: Help us understand the type of leader you will be by describing your two highest priorities for change in Muskoka?
* Innovative projects: "Blue sky" for a moment and share your thoughts on what innovative projects would enhance life in this area?
* Balancing environment and economy: Summarize your position on maintaining a balance between environmental sustainability and economic development. How important is it -- and is a balance currently being maintained?
* Growth and development: To what extent do you feel that population growth and development is necessary for Muskoka? In your opinion, what type of growth and development should be targeted?
* Industries: What are the industries that you can foresee as bringing prosperity to this region?
* Economic vision: What is your economic vision for Muskoka?
* What we do well: Identify three things that we do really well in Muskoka. How can we build on these to enhance local prosperity?
Feel free to forward these questions to your colleagues, board members, and any other associates you feel would benefit from them. It's time to get involved. Get out and ask some questions. Remember ... the next election isn't for another four years!
Muskoka is the place to be if you need a drink. Our cute pubs, stylish ristorantes, and laid-back hangouts fulfill everyone’s wants and needs. One thing I have found since returning home is that I spend much more time talking to my bartenders because we are all around the same age. It is amazing what you can find out about someone over a casual drink.
Did you know that you can make between $8,000 and $13,000 as a bartender or server during the summer in Muskoka? I talked to some friends who are working as servers and bartenders in variety of Muskoka establishments, and they all agreed that if you really commit yourself you will get a very high return. It is very difficult to find a job where you are making that much money, other than in construction. I was chatting with one of my favorite local bartenders and when the subject of school and travel came up it was so interesting to hear that she had done a double major, and had travelled all over Europe and South Asia during the past few years. When I asked her why she came back to Muskoka and what she was going to do next, she replied, “I’m not really sure. Right now I’m just making money to travel and pay off my student loan. I just love it here! The lifestyle is so different, I love the outdoors, and I really can’t see myself anywhere else.” This statement is very telling.
Having grown up in Muskoka, I constantly run into people I went to school with and during the initial “How are you?” the subject of school almost always comes up. “I’m done, just back here to figure out what I want to do now”, “I think I might have to go back and do a college degree or something. There aren’t that many jobs up here in my field”, “I can’t find something I really want to do up here, so I’m serving. The money’s decent.”
Don’t get me wrong, serving and bartending are completely acceptable careers, and absolutely vital in Muskoka. It is disappointing, though, if you go away to school, get your degree, come back because this is where you want to settle down and instead of being able to find a job in whatever you studied, you settle for a summer job that will make you money, not a full-time career. This is a problem. We go away to school so that we gain a better education, learn the tools we need in order to get a well-paying job, and to experience life away from home. When we come back to find that great job here, there isn’t one for us. You have raised us in this amazing haven, and regardless of how much we wanted out after high school, you still made us fall in love and we’re back. What are we going to do now?
I was talking to a fellow intern the other day and he said, “Finding a nice girl in this town is hard because they all leave after high school. The guys come back and work construction, but the girls move on and go to the city to find a career.” This may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but when the baby boomers are retired and it is up to us to keep Muskoka’s population sustained, how will that happen without young people attracted by well-paying jobs?
This is where the creative economy comes in. Ask yourself – do the young people in your community represent wasted resources? Muskoka needs to start investing in new economy jobs that require next generation education, skills, and ideas – that is what we can offer. Now that’s sustainability!
I am a twenty-something with my eye on Muskoka. This is my home and, although my schooling has taken me across the country, I am constantly drawn back to its natural beauty, charismatic community and its lifestyle. But something is changing and I want to be a part of it. They call it the creative economy and like others, I am trying to understand what it means.
Why does the creative economy interest me at all? Because my expectations are high. I am educated, ambitious and hungry for opportunities that will grow my talents and my experience. I am looking for a great job that will make use of my talents and will reward me in return. I love Muskoka and want to build a career that will allow me to contribute to my home town. Occupations related to arts and culture are very much a part of the new creative economy, and cultural activities contribute to a quality of life that acts like a magnet in attracting creative workers. But by definition, creative occupations are much broader. Creative workers are knowledge workers whose jobs involve idea generation, innovation, decision-making and responsibility.
The creative economy is taking many forms in Muskoka. I mention a sampling.
On the culinary front, The Griffin Gastropub is a niche establishment that is capitalizing on consumer's interest in combining quality food, cozy atmosphere and a focus on all that is local and micro. Two young Griffin entrepreneurs are bringing the flavours of the world to their patrons along with over 50 different beers made exclusively by Ontario Breweries. Muskoka Cottage Brewery and Lake of Bays Brewery, two other local creative industries, are included on the menu. Good luck finding a seat! Savour Muskoka is a clever collective of food businesses that is developing the Muskoka region as a dynamic culinary tourism destination by supporting establishments like the Griffin.
What about the many environmentalists who are operating consulting and research services from Muskoka. They are also a part of the creative economy. For example, Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. is a new Muskoka company that is using local scientists and technicians to undertake Canada-wide projects related to aquatic science. New technologies allow Muskoka-based operations to serve clients around the globe.
Muskoka is also becoming an eduation centre. Georgian College, Nipissing University and now Waterloo University are bringing formal learning opportunities to the area. Specialized programs promise to attract learners from around the world, and bring teaching professionals to Muskoka as well. Having the chance to experience Muskoka may entice some people into relocating and moving their businesses and jobs here to enjoy our quality of life on a permanent basis.
And yes... I am proud of my community. I am passionate about being a part of Muskoka's future and I am committed to doing what it takes to prosper here at home by becoming a part of this new, creative economy.