Lambton County’s $275-million cultural sector has room to grow, according to the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership.
The county-funded economic development agency provided an update Thursday on work it has been doing to explore the potential of local arts and culture industries.
Jeremy Freiburger, a consultant with Hamilton-based Cobalt Connects, spoke at an annual meeting the partnership holds to update the community on its work.
“A city needs to be a place where you want to be,” Freiburger said about the role culture plays in communities.
Culture encourages people to use and enjoy public spaces, encourages pride in property ownership when cultural ventures move into downtown communities, and provides other benefits, according to Freiburger.
He began working with the partnership four months ago, building on earlier research on the local arts and culture sector.
Along with generating $275 million in revenue in 2011, the sector was responsible for 1,970 jobs, Freiburger said.
“The best way to get a creative community going is to empower them,” he said.
Freiburger said he has found that Sarnia has a “very strong design sector,” combining architectural services, as well as graphic, interior and industrial design.
“Couple that with the R and D side thing that’s going on here, I think there’s a unique thing to play with.”
SLEP officials plan to put together a plan outlining priorities, said George Mallay, general manager of the partnership.
“We definitely see there’s potential.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the partnership highlighted its recently updated website, slep.wpengine.com, and Mallay provided an update on the partnership’s activities over the past year, and what it sees coming in the New Year.
After climbing to 12 per cent during the 2009 economic downturn, the jobless rate in Sarnia-Lambton has since dropped to approximately seven per cent, he said.
While dropping crude oil prices have led to cutbacks in capital spending and staff at some Chemical Valley companies, Mallay said low oil prices can be positive for the Ontario economy.
He added a lower Canadian dollar can also help, noting Sarnia-Lambton created approximately 6,000 new jobs when the dollar was down between 1998 and 2003.
“We have a strong prospect pipeline,” Mallay said about work the partnership is doing to attract industries and jobs to the community.
There has been an increase recently in interest in advanced manufacturing prospects for the area, something Mallay attributes to the low Canadian dollar.
“We’re hoping over the next six or eight month, the pipeline will continue to grow and we’ll have some wins.”
The partnership has been promoting the region as a bio-hybrid chemical centre, stressing its traditional chemical and energy industries along with its potential to host new bio-industries.
Mallay said three prospect companies have visited Sarnia-Lambton since July.
“We’re very confident that within the next eight to 10 months we’ll land another BioAmber-type investment,” he said.
BioAmber has begun production at a new plant it built on Vidal Street to make succinic acid from corn.
The partnership is also working to make a case for development of a $1-billion polypropylene facility in Sarnia-Lambton that could take advantage of the locally-available supply of low cost natural gas.
“We have a target group of companies that we’re talking to,” Mallay said.
“We feel that this is an area where there is strong potential for a win.”