Canadian Design and Construction Report special feature
Bracebridge is a cultural and recreational gem located in the heart of Muskoka, a quick two hours north of Toronto. A charming and lush landscape surrounds the entire District of Muskoka and greets residents and visitors alike with gorgeous natural splendour consisting of a rural network of lakes, forests and trails. Bracebridge is one of six municipalities that make up the District of Muskoka and has a permanent resident population of 16,000 that climbs closer to 25,000 during peak summer months.
Randy Mattice, Bracebridge manager of economic development, says: “In addition to a thriving tourism sector, Bracebridge offers a diverse economy with many sectors such as construction, niche manufacturing, hospitality, green technology and professional services. The construction sector is a particularly strong contributor to the local economy due to ongoing work involving new residential construction, new cottage construction, and a growing cottage renovation market.” He says the weakening Canadian dollar is reviving American investment in the cottage sector within the region are all located in the community.
Bracebridge has a secure economic foundation based on it being the regional location for government services. For example, offices of the District Municipality of Muskoka, the provincial courthouse, a regional hospital and several public sector head offices such as Lakeland Power are located in Bracebridge.
Mattice says the town would like to further diversify its economic composition by attracting innovative companies flourishing in the creative and digital economies. “Town staff feel that Bracebridge has a competitive advantage in the creative economy due to recent investments in technology infrastructure (for example, broadband connectivity featuring Gigabit internet speeds), an expanding collection of professionals such as architects, scientists, and engi-neers, plus the lifestyle these individuals crave to offset their busy schedule.”
Mattice says whether people are looking to personally relocate or to relocate a business, Bracebridge has a strong business foundation predicated on an extensive transportation network.
“Bracebridge and the District of Muskoka are well serviced by an intricate network of local, district and provincial highways,” he said. “Bracebridge has easy highway access since it is situated alongside Highway 11, a four-lane separated highway that connects to the 400 series of highways via Highway 400.”
Other transportation modes include buses, rail and the Muskoka Airport which he says has a fully lighted 6,000-ft. runway that can accommodate all light planes, most corporate aircraft and larger commercial aircraft up to a Boe-ing 737.
Mattice says the town recently reorganized its Department of Planning and Development to focus efforts on promoting and streamlining the development process to further attract new investment into the community. The department now consists of an Economic Development Branch, Planning Branch and Building Services Branch. The economic development branch also manages the Downtown BIA co-ordinator and the Muskoka Small Busi-ness Centre whose focus is start-ups, small businesses and young entrepreneurs.
“The Town of Bracebridge has a “can do” business approach where Bracebridge Town Council has approved certain incentives to promote business investment,” said Mattice. These include the elimination of non-residential development charges, the freezing of building permit fees at 2014 levels, and access to a variety of grants and inter-est free loans through a comprehensive Community Improvement Plan (CIP).
“One particular program that supports new investment is the Tax Increment Equivalent Grant. It is available to property owners whose municipal property taxes have increased as a result of substantial development, redevelopment, construction or re-construction of an eligible building or property, within designated areas of the town.”
Site plan approval processes have also been stream-lined to assist new investors in navigating the municipal approval process. To increase the fast tracking of the development approval process, building permit applications can be submitted concurrently with the site plan application.
Bracebridge is embarking on a project to update its Community-Based Strategic Plan as well as an economic and tourism marketing strategy that will highlight and promote these recent development changes to further attract new investment into the community.
“We are looking to maximize our exposure in the investment community so along with traditional marketing techniques, the town wishes to utilize digital marketing, content management, and social media channels to pro-mote the attributes of the community.”
While it is looking to the future and attracting new investment, Bracebridge has also been proactive in maintaining its heritage through the repurposing of the local historic high school into residential condominiums and transforming a former foundry into a successful cottage accessories retail outlet.
Bracebridge has access to several essential business components including a diverse and stable economy; abundant power; a high capacity telecommunication network; an affordable skilled workforce; and a well maintained and efficient transportation network that includes regional and provincial highways.
“There is a movement occurring in Muskoka whereby seasonal visitors are making the weekend cottage commute a thing of the past,” Mattice said. “They are taking advantage of the prosperous local business environment and establishing their business in Bracebridge.”
For more information, visit www.bracebridge.ca.