Last fall, Economic Development Coordinator Brigid Ayotte teamed up with volunteers from Tweed to participate in a Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs program called First Impressions Community Exchange.
The FICE program engages volunteers who visit a community to assess its strengths and weaknesses in the services, transportation, tourist attractions, accommodations and overall appeal to visitors and potential new residents and businesses. Tweed was selected as Cavan Monaghan’s partner community for the review, based on its proximity, population, demographics and its distance from a major population centre.
Visitors assume a persona during their visit, seeking information from a particular perspective. They could pretend to be considering establishing a business in town, relocating, shopping or visiting as a tourist. Participants follow a specific itinerary where they evaluate physical attributes including natural areas including parks and trails, physical spaces including buildings, facilities and landmarks, community services including access to health and education, jobs, retail and restaurants and the overall appearance and appeal of the downtown area. With a budget of $500 for travel, this program provides valuable feedback for economic development by offering a fresh perspective and unique insights about the attributes of the community. This feedback can inform future development activity by offering insight into ways to encourage business retention and expansion, downtown revitalization efforts and address local service deficiencies.
On December 4th, the volunteers from Tweed met Cavan Monaghan staff, Council members and program volunteers to provide a presentation and report outlining their findings. Let’s summarize them by saying the group was impressed.
Among the volunteers were former Councillor Don DeGenova and Vicki McCulloch who presented the report. They opened their presentation by wondering aloud how their community was selected as a comparable one to Cavan Monaghan.
They were amazed at the extensive residential development and actually envious of our growth. They were impressed by the cleanliness of the residential areas which demonstrated a pride of ownership in their well-maintained yards and gardens.
Among the most outstanding features they noted was the quaint and attractive downtown area, the impressive new community centre with its environmentally-friendly design, the attractiveness and effectiveness of our street signs, and our extensive trail system. They also loved the music from the barber shop on King Street, calling it unique and welcoming.
Visiting the merchants they were impressed at how shopkeepers acted as ambassadors, promoted the community at large as well as other local businesses. This demonstrated an understanding that other retailers are not competitors, but all retail outlets benefit from an audience that reaches a critical mass. They appreciated the well-merchandized local shops, and commented on the attractiveness of the street displays. They noticed the murals and the absence of overhead wires in the downtown, and understood why the town was the frequent location for film production.
Among the few challenges the group noted was the integration of a substantial new residential population, and a possible shortage in housing for seniors and lower income families, observing that most local residential development appeared to be geared to higher income levels. They noted the absence of a Tourism Centre, and identified Needler’s Mill as an ideal home for that facility.
When we see something every day, we often see only what needs work instead of what has been achieved. Seeing the community through the fresh perspective of a visitor helped those in the audience better appreciate what has been done and will help direct efforts to make the community more welcoming to new residents, business and visitors alike. Not a bad return on a $500 investment. KG