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City throws its support behind new Lakehead-led innovation hub

Posted on Thursday June 10, 2021
2021-06-08-orillia-innovation-hub-meeting
City council listens to a deputation Monday regarding the Orillia Area Innovation Hub. Screenshot
By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Matters

City council is showing its support for the Orillia Area Innovation Hub.

During its meeting Monday, council received an update on the project from David Potter, professor emeritus with McMaster University, and Dean Jobin-Bevans, principal of Lakehead University’s Orillia campus.

Public consultation and focus groups are helping to guide the plan, which has been described as a “one-stop shop” that will leverage the expertise of those at Lakehead to help local businesses and organizations grow and thrive.

Forty-nine people took part in four focus groups in November and February. Participants were from the business, government, arts, education and health-care sectors, as well as community organizations.

The majority of comments from participants identified priority areas for the hub, including resources for businesses, attracting and retaining people in the region, community collaboration, and leveraging the community for economic development.

With the hub concept having been developed, work is underway to pilot the program to create a business model and business plan. Up to $16,000 in funding is being sought to carry out the pilot.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla asked Potter to summarize the purpose of an innovation hub.

“Innovation is the strategic implementation of creativity to add value,” Potter responded.

“The hub is a facility or a tool, if you will, to drive innovation.”

The goal is to have broad representation from various sectors and services in town “to drive change consistent with community strategic plans, goals, and measures.”

“It does this by engaging the whole community in a process to identify and develop entrepreneurial economic development projects,” a report to council stated.

Coun. Pat Hehn asked if there has been more interest in a hub like this in this area during the pandemic, with people moving north because they can work from home.

Potter said there are plenty of examples in the news of people moving north, and increasing housing prices in the area seem to support that.

“That’s a consequence of people leaving dense, urban centres and moving north,” he said, noting some people have relocated here and continue to run businesses in the Toronto area.

Coun. Ted Emond proposed a motion — which was supported by council — that states council supports, in principle, the establishment of the Orillia Area Innovation Hub and that a future request for financial assistance, should there be one, be forwarded to 2022 budget deliberations.