TRURO – The Colchester Regional Development Association (CoRDA) could be forced to shut down its operations by March 31 if a source of transitional funding is not soon found.
Colchester County Mayor Bob Taylor said during council committee this week that is it “my understanding” that CoRDA would be shutting down its operations by the end of next month in light of the fact that provincial and federal funding sources are no longer forthcoming.
However, CoRDA CEO Ron Smith said, while he does not want to disagree entirely with Taylor’s assessment, the March 31 cutoff date for operations is not yet set in stone.
“Our board has not met to make any decisions,” he said. “In all honesty we haven’t discussed the actual closing date. We do have to make decisions but it’s not my intention that we would close on March 31.”
Smith said the province has only committed operational funding until March 31 and after that on a more limited basis to give the organization a chance to “wind down” the organization just prior to the end of July.
“In conversations with not just the mayor of the county, other mayors, we have been trying to work towards a solution and understand commitments for many months,” Smith said. “And although I would have stated that the provincial money does not provide for ongoing normal operations beyond March 31, it only provides for wind-down operations, but our board has not met to say that we are winding down or laying people off March 31.
“I have had conversations with the province and they said, ‘if you can explain why certain personnel are essential to stay on during that wind-down period,’ then they have the ability to approve the expenditure.”
Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Percy Paris announced in December that the province intends to replace Nova Scotia’s 12 regional development agencies (RDAs) with six Regional Enterprise Networks (RENs) in an effort to better promote economic development across the province, after the federal government earlier said it was cutting ACOA funding to RDAs.
CoRDA, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, is included among the RDAs to be affected by the plan.
The provincial government has said it will maintain provincial funding to RDAs that buy into its REN plan but, as yet, no structure has been put in place to proceed under the new formula.
“I was amazed at this, that there’s just no plan, there’s no structure, nothing …,” Councillor Doug MacInnes said, during council discussion of the provincial REN proposal this week.
Colchester County, the towns of Truro and Stewiacke and Millbrook First Nation, which are all funding supporters of CoRDA, have been discussing the possibility of forming their own regional economic development organization in lieu of buying into the provincial plan.
That move would eliminate the chance of receiving any provincial funding, which Taylor said would amount to between $80,000 and $90,000 to the county and approximately half of that amount to both Truro and Stewiacke.
But Taylor and the majority of council believe that, given the lack of economic development support from the province, the municipalities would be better off forming and financing their own regional development association.
In the meantime, Taylor said, decisions will soon have to be made by the four local units to ensure that CoRDA continues to operate beyond March 31.
“We can’t let it die,” he said.
In essence, CoRDA consists of two separate companies known as the Colchester Regional Development Association and the Colchester Regional Development Agency.
The association is responsible for promoting and generating economic development and immigration to the region while the agency is responsible for management of the Debert Air Industrial Park and the residential assets of the former Camp Debert that were once controlled by the former Colchester Park Development Society (CPDS).
Under that management CoRDA, the agency, has generated more than $7 million for the municipality in the past few years with sales of the former Camp Debert residences. Some $4 million of the money remains in reserve for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades for the community.
CoRDA, the association, has been responsible for promoting immigration to help satisfy the region’s workforce development. It has also been involved in the training of almost 2,000 people over the past six years for various companies throughout the region.
“We certainly have changed the business retention and expansion model,” Smith said.
Other initiations that involved CoRDA’s assistance include the Perennia Innovation Centre in Bible Hill, a heavy duty equipment training program between the Nova Scotia Community College and about 17 local businesses, and the development of a digital animation at the NSCC campus in Truro, to name just a few.
Five fulltime staff are currently employed at CoRDA (three others have recently found employment elsewhere) and three workers are on contract from outside sources.
Given the current uncertainty of the organization’s future, Smith said, the situation has created “considerable” confusion for staff.
“We don’t have the resources on our own to keep full staff available up through to and including July 22,” he said. “So the time delays certainly cause us anxiety, there’s no two ways about it.”