Leaders want the ‘whole town’, thank you very much!

When Barrie was a small city, or a big town (say, 26,000 people) its economic development activities were performed by the Chamber of Commerce. Local business people opened their factories to show other business people through.

In those days Barrie’s economic foundation centred around manufacturing… Copaco on Innisfil St., Lufkin Rule (later Cooper Tools) on Innisfil St., Mansfield Denman over on Hart Dr., General Tire on Fairview Rd., Canplas on Patterson, Albarrie on Patterson, Imperial Eastman on Brock St, General Electric on Bradford St., The Barrie Tannery on Bradford St., Rockwell International on Barrie’s southern extremity, Big Bay Point Rd. The Welham Industrial Park was named to honour Reg Welham, Barrie’s Industrial Commissioner.

Sarjeants Cement was at the foot of Toronto St., at Simcoe St. In fact, that site remains vacant today. Bob Burk had bought Prodomax from Ross Hickling and was building robotics for manufacturers across the continent.

Our newest manufacturer in the 70’s was Formosa Spring Brewery, built on the Holt farmstead at Big Bay Pt and Hwy 400… ponds, woods, a tiny elegant building, and a couple of shifts of workers brewing beer.

When the “city” of Barrie decided that economic development needed to come under its purview the old city hall (which was truly under the Arch) located a corner and the city looked around for the right person for the job.

It turned out to be Bert Cook. Newly retired from the employee-owned Tannery, Bert had travelled the world, meeting with political super-powers as he represented Canada’s leather and byproducts industry. With his gravelly voice, his gentlemanly ways and his ability to get to the ‘quick’ of the matter, Bert fashioned a lean, mean machine comprised mostly of himself.

I well remember his wise words… and they went something like this.

“If you’re going to bring businesses to Barrie, whether it’s factories or retail stores, or bankers or college professors, you have to tour them around,” said Bert. First, he’d take them into the offices of Barrie¹s
business leaders. Bill Caldwell would roll out the Moldex welcome mat at his sparkling new facility on Bayview Dr. He’d talk about the potential for success if a person wanted to work hard.

Then Bert would drive them around the residential areas, showing them various kinds of housing so they could see where they and their employees could live.

He’d drop by and see Bob Crawford at Georgian College and Bob would show them the brand new theatre with its fabulous acoustics, and then talk about the college’s potential for turning out technology graduates. Bert would spin them past the appropriate church, having found out which church would be suitable. He’d stop off at the Yacht Club where commodore Jack Garside might walk them past a few boats.

In his gentle way, Bert Cook was ready to prove that Barrie offered everything an owner would want: great recreation, great culture, great workforce, wonderful places to live, good schools, solid places of worship.
Please note at this point he hasn’t opened a map of industrial space, nor has he begun the precise site salepitch. Why? Because the amenities came first.

“They have to know that they¹ll love living here,” said Bert. “They have to know their families will have lots to do, and that there will be people with whom they can build friendships.”

Bert was very careful to introduce all that first.

Then he’d move in to close the sale.

Barrie (at populataion 130,000) has an entire department devoted to economic development these days. Staff are pretty upscale in their presentations of Barrie today, and the internet has replaced Bert’s car as a touring device.

But the rules are still the same.

People who own companies that grow, companies that contribute to the city’s gross domestic product as well as the country’s gdp, want to know they can go to a decent symphony, take in professional theatre, enjoy recreational amenities like golfing and boating and skiing, offer personal and professional development courses to their employees, and find good, technologically sound staff who will help push the company to the next

People who want to grow companies want well rounded lifestyles. They want to be able to shop, to associate with like-minded business owners, and to worship in their faith of choice. They also want to dine out, well.

And that’s why the cultural policy that was launched at City Hall this week is so important. It falls fast on the heels of the downtown renewal project announced two months ago. They go hand in hand with maintaining this entire economic area as vital, attractive, and superlative when it comes to lifestyle.

It’s an investment Bert Cook knew about 30 years ago.

It’s an investment that we all should consider today.

Thanks, Bert. You’ve given us great leadership.