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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

GO to be discussed at economic summit

The business community can never turn away an opportunity to corner some of the most prominent provincial politicians.

Enter the 2015 Ontario Economic Summit, which is scheduled to take place Tuesday through Thursday in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Organized by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and held at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, this year’s summit is called Accelerating Growth: Creating the Conditions for Success.

According to organizers, Ontario’s economy is being shaped by a changing economic landscape. New ways of doing business are necessitating changes to the regulatory environment. At the same time, advancements in technology are creating unique opportunities and altering the nature of work.

The summit will explore how the public and private sectors can work together in the near, medium, and long term to capitalize on surfacing trends, and foster conditions for Ontario to prosper.

Featured topics will explore new changes in the economy and their implications for the province.

Niagara Region Chair Alan Caslin said it’s “exciting” to have the summit in Niagara.

“There will be so many influential and prominent people all gathered together in one spot — ministers and business leaders,” he said.

Caslin said it’s important for politicians and business leaders to meet face to face.

“It’s another opportunity for us here in Niagara to talk about important issues, including GO Transit in Niagara and other projects, such as Miller’s Creek (marina project) and the Canadian Motor Speedway.”

Caslin said Niagara stakeholders continue to discuss their proposal to bring year-round GO train service to the region. He said stakeholders have come a long way in the last year, including preparing a detailed business plan, which they submitted to the province in April.

“We hope for some good news from the province about the GO train,” said Caslin.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said he’s not sure if the government is ready to make a GO in Niagara announcement.

“We’re still making sure all of our information is lined up,” he said. “We’re all on the same page, everybody wants it to happen, from us right up to the premier’s office.”

Diodati said the summit is “hugely” important for the region because “all eyes will be on Niagara.”

St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik said the summit will give Niagara stakeholders another opportunity to talk GO with the premier and cabinet ministers.

“It’s another chance to reinforce the message not just from myself, or Jim Diodati, or the Region, but also from the community,” he said.

Mishka Balsom, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, said the theme of this year’s summit is a critical one to the local business community.

She said the GO train file continues to be a priority for Niagara politicians and business leaders, and the summit will allow Niagara to once again “voice the importance of that.”

“I don’t know if the summit will be the place to hear good news (about GO), but it will be an opportunity to … move the project forward.”

Balsom said Niagara businesses will also want to hear more about issues they are concerned about, such as the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, increased hydro rates and cap and trade.

“(The summit) allows us to address these issues directly with the right people.”

She said the chamber will also want to hear about manufacturing, specifically the auto sector, which is “transitioning to a tech-driven industry.”

Allan O’Dette, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said they have booked the entire hotel for the summit, which will include a sold-out crowd of more than 300 delegates.

“The Niagara region is a beautiful part of the province and is well within reach of Toronto,” he said. “The audience is always captive and engaged.”

He said the goal of the conference is for the group of business leaders, academics, non-government officials, cabinet ministers and the premier to “align around some key things to allow the province to accelerate growth and opportunities.”

He said during the opening night, some firms will talk about enablers that allowed them to be successful, as well as the roadblocks they have faced, along with ways those roadblocks can be eliminated.

“In the 21st century, we just can’t afford to ignore innovation and technological advancement … and the skills required in the 21st century,” said O’Dette.

The three-day conference will feature business visionaries who will challenge delegates to think differently about what it takes to grow a business in Ontario. It will also feature discussions with prominent provincial politicians, such as Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, Brad Duguid, minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

In addition to attending a number of plenary sessions and panel discussions, delegates will also have an opportunity to take part in an interactive session with more than half a dozen cabinet ministers.

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