Council welcomes move by Chamber to avoid potential conflict

Mike Carson
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SUMMERSIDE — The chair of the city's economic development committee said council welcomes a move by the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce to come up with a policy position on potential conflicts between the city and the private sector on business development.

There have been complaints circulating within the business community, and among members of city council, that the city is placing itself in direct competition with the private sector.

Some areas include, convention business, restaurants, fitness centres, internet fibre optics, heating units and power generation.

The most recent example, and the one that spurred comments from the chamber, came when city council approved $20,000 to cover cost overruns in a proposed expansion to the Fit Stop Fitness Centre at Credit Union Place.

Coun. Ron Dowling, chair of the city's economic development committee, said any input the chamber of commerce can give council will be considered.

"From time to time we've received emails or letters from various people raising the issue when we initiate a new initiative," Dowling said.

"Someone will say this should be a private sector matter. It's a citizen providing their viewpoint for consideration, which is always good. We've never had anything coming from a policy position from the chamber. There was nothing even on an informal basis collectively saying this is our position."

Dowling said, as a representative of the business community, it's a good initiative on the of the part chamber to adopt a particular viewpoint or position on it and present that information to council.

He explained that when the design was being developed for Credit Union Place, the original concept was for the city to run the facility in its entirety including the fitness centre.

He said it could be argued that all of the services being offered at Credit Union Place could be viewed as being in competition with the private sector but these services are provided to the citizens.

"I can see the concerns that the private sector would have around the city getting into the various initiatives that we do get into," he said. "We do give consideration to that as we're making those decisions and the policy perspective whether or not to enter into a particular business realm."

Chamber of Commerce president Todd Clark said members raised the competition issue at a recent full board meeting.

Currently, the chamber does not have a policy dealing with the city competing with the private sector and will be working to establish one.

Clark said the chamber board of directors was divided on how they felt about the issue but the membership was not.

"The members weren't for sure," he said.

"Sometimes, it's competitive to them in nature, specifically, or they're just generally concerned with it," he said. "Around the board table it was a split. Some were very much against it and some were not too worried about it. It seems to be when it's in your backyard it's more of a concern."

Terry Adams, owner of Iron Haven Gym in Summerside, previously ran the facility at Credit Union Place but was unable to negotiate a contract with the city. He said he is pleased to see the chamber willing to take a stand on the issue.

"I'm glad to hear that the chamber of commerce has some concerns with the city being in direct competition with private business," Adams said.

"The city is competing with their own tax revenue base. My view is, anyone that's in business wants to provide the best service they can. We obviously have to make money in order to stay there and we're dealing with competition that can lose money year after year but they're still going to be there. It makes it tough to compete against."

Clark said the chamber wants to work with the city to make sure there's a positive outcome for everybody.

"If you go back to the last budget cycle, federal, provincial and municipal budgets were all focused on private sector growth and innovation. They've obviously focused their cash on private sector growth and we want to make sure we work with them to get a healthy working relationship there."

Organizations: Credit Union Place, Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: SUMMERSIDE

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