With an eye on economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s much on the horizon for the city’s new director of economic development.
Longtime city staffer Meredith Armstrong was named to the position last week, filling a role vacated by Brett Williamson on Nov. 19 after spending one year in the role.
In a media release issued by the city, it was explained that Williamson is pursuing an opportunity outside the organization.
Originally from Stratford, Armstrong came to Greater Sudbury in 2003 for a one-year internship with FedNor and began her career with the City of Greater Sudbury in 2005.
“I feel like we’ve chosen such a great time to be in Sudbury,” she said, adding that things have only picked up since her arrival, with restaurants, the arts and culture scene, film industry, mining services and supply, and various other opportunities growing in recent years.
“There are so many things that have made Sudbury an exciting place, and I would say that’s reflected in the reputation that we have with external audiences. There’s a buzz about Sudbury.”
Although she’s now filling the director role on a permanent basis, Armstrong carries several years of experience in the department, including two years as acting director from 2018 to 2020.
Other roles she has filled include manager of tourism and culture, and manager of investment and business development.
The department’s overall mandate is to help “grow the economy and grow assessment growth, which is done through things like support for businesses and working closely with our colleagues on supporting development, job creation; that kind of thing,” she said, adding that economic recovery is currently front and centre.
These times are mired in complications related to whatever COVID-19 regulations are in place at any given time and underlying shortcomings in the labour market, which Armstrong said are “acute right now.”
Part of their ongoing push is attracting working professionals to the city, including the Hit Refresh in Greater Sudbury initiative currently marketing the city in the Greater Toronto Area.
Although this talent attraction effort is ongoing via media and digital advertising, part of its rollout is being delayed by the pandemic.
“We’ve been very conscious of the state of emergency,” Armstrong said. “This is not the time to be inviting people to come up in person, it is a time to get on radars all over the place.”
When the full program is deployed, she said staff will offer a concierge service to help people come up and experience the city -- “Kick the tires and see what it’s like.”
This all ties into the bigger picture, she said, with more than half of the city’s tourism audience comprised of people visiting friends and residents.
“The more we have to offer locally, the more reasons we have to bring those family and friends home again,” she said.
The city’s goal, she added, is to capitalize “on the interest in bringing people together with really interesting experiences and places to go and things to see and wonderful food to eat, and I think that really will catch that wave and bring the folks up.”
Although the city’s elected officials have expressed concern regarding the municipality’s lagging assessment growth in the lead-up to 2022 budget deliberations, Armstrong said it’s a complex calculation that doesn’t necessarily point to a lack of development and opportunity.
The city has made a number of gains in recent months, she said, despite various hardships brought about as a result of the global pandemic. One positive indicator she pointed to is a jump in housing starts.
As Sudbury.com previously reported, there were 445 residential units created in 2020, which compares to 309 the previous year.
“The economic development team is a really wonderful group of people that I feel so honoured and privileged to work with,” Armstrong said.
“We take it really seriously that we want to be a voice for business, we want to be a voice for innovation and exciting projects, and we want to help facilitate and be that matchmaker when it comes to organizations and businesses and city folks -- city teams that need to help with whatever it is, whether it’s accessing a facility or supporting a film production or partnering or supporting a new development somewhere in town.”
In a media release issued last week, Mayor Brian Bigger thanked Williamson for his contributions to the city during his tenure and congratulated Armstrong on her promotion.
“She has a proven record for success in collaborating with city council, developing strong partnerships with stakeholders and community partners and leading staff,” he said. “I look forward to working with her as she joins the executive leadership team.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.