Innovation, neighbourhoods atop mayor's year in review

News Jan 02, 2017 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post

Christmas might be over, but Mayor Berry Vrbanovic already knows what he wants this year.

“If Santa could bring me a high-speed rail system in the coming year, or at least get it approved and the environmental assessment started, I think Mayor Berry and Kitchener council would be a happy bunch of kids,” he said.

It’s a big ask, and though it may be years before the gift of high-speed rail appears beneath the tree at city hall — a study by a provincial adviser is due later this year — Vrbanovic said strengthening transportation links will be integral to growing the local economy, which is now part of a newly minted Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor.

The partnership announced last spring was among the top gains for the city in 2016, said Vrbanovic, who highlighted his trip to Silicon Valley along with local leaders and Toronto Mayor John Tory. The trip focused on recruiting and repatriating talent and opening the door to new opportunities here at home.

“We think we have some huge opportunities now because of some of the things happening geopolitically, whether it’s because of Brexit or concerns in the tech sector around what a change in government in the U.S. might mean. It’s increased interest levels significantly,” Vrbanovic said.

“Certainly in the tech and innovation sector, we’re seeing progress with the growth of some of our accelerators and incubators. So whether it’s the expanded face of Communitech and the Velocity Garage, the fact we have the Accelerator Centre down here at 44 Gaukel, as well as what’s happening at Catalyst 137, I think speaks to the fact that we’ve made some real inroads and progress on the tech and innovation agenda.”

Vrbanovic points to job creation and the added square feet of expanded employment space, with chain stores such as IKEA opening doors in the retail sector and companies like Boehmer Box and Mitchell Plastics hiring more workers in traditional manufacturing industries.

“Any analysis done thus far in terms of job creation is quantifiable,” he said, crediting the city’s former economic development investment fund and its current Make It Kitchener strategy for the success. The new strategy will continue to roll out millions of dollars of seed funding in 2017.

Funding announcements this past year from upper levels of government for light-rail transit, the Transit Hub, Highway 7 improvements and GO infrastructure have helped, but the rising cost of replacing core infrastructure remains challenging for municipalities such as Kitchener that work to keep property tax increases at or within the rate of inflation.

“We’re concerned about the fact that water and sewer rates are going to have to go up significantly as forecasted right now, and that’s why we’re putting a lot of pressure on the other levels of government that we need a different fiscal relationship,” Vrbanovic said. “I think some progress has been made in that regard, but we’re not where we need to be yet.”

Last year the city learned it will have to bank millions of dollars to payout insurance claims of local firefighters after the province expanded presumptive coverage for first responders to include various types of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even more pressing, according to Vrbanovic, is the need for the province to address the arbitration process that continues to inflate municipal budgets by compounding salary awards for first responders.

Other capital costs that came to light in 2016, such as million dollars of upgrades needed for city hall and Carl Zehr Square, will move forward in due time within the city’s existing capital framework, Vrbanovic said.

An update on the city’s comprehensive asset inventory plan spanning more than 250 municipally owned properties will be presented to council in 2017.

Vrbanovic is most looking forward to seeing the final recommendations and roll out of the city’s Neighbourhood Strategy.

“We’ve been able to consult with over 5,000 people and the committee put in thousands of hours of work,” he said. “In February we’ll have a great document to move forward on for neighbourhood improvements by removing red tape and creating action plans to build on the strengths of neighbourhoods.”

Other initiatives underway include Digital Kitchener – a multi-pronged platform with the vision of harnessing the power of digital technology to create a world-class, smart city.

Some key aspects of the framework are projects already approved, such as the implementation of the narrowband/smart controls network along with LED streetlight replacements. New projects under the strategy include the creation of a Civic Innovation Lab at Communitech and setting a public Internet access standard.

“There are a number of development projects that are still in discussions, and I’m hoping some of them will get to the announceable stage in 2017,” Vrbanovic said. “You put all those things together and it’s going to be a very busy year with continued focus on the Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor.”

Innovation, neighbourhoods atop mayor's year in review

News Jan 02, 2017 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post

Christmas might be over, but Mayor Berry Vrbanovic already knows what he wants this year.

“If Santa could bring me a high-speed rail system in the coming year, or at least get it approved and the environmental assessment started, I think Mayor Berry and Kitchener council would be a happy bunch of kids,” he said.

It’s a big ask, and though it may be years before the gift of high-speed rail appears beneath the tree at city hall — a study by a provincial adviser is due later this year — Vrbanovic said strengthening transportation links will be integral to growing the local economy, which is now part of a newly minted Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor.

The partnership announced last spring was among the top gains for the city in 2016, said Vrbanovic, who highlighted his trip to Silicon Valley along with local leaders and Toronto Mayor John Tory. The trip focused on recruiting and repatriating talent and opening the door to new opportunities here at home.

“We think we have some huge opportunities now because of some of the things happening geopolitically, whether it’s because of Brexit or concerns in the tech sector around what a change in government in the U.S. might mean. It’s increased interest levels significantly,” Vrbanovic said.

“Certainly in the tech and innovation sector, we’re seeing progress with the growth of some of our accelerators and incubators. So whether it’s the expanded face of Communitech and the Velocity Garage, the fact we have the Accelerator Centre down here at 44 Gaukel, as well as what’s happening at Catalyst 137, I think speaks to the fact that we’ve made some real inroads and progress on the tech and innovation agenda.”

Vrbanovic points to job creation and the added square feet of expanded employment space, with chain stores such as IKEA opening doors in the retail sector and companies like Boehmer Box and Mitchell Plastics hiring more workers in traditional manufacturing industries.

“Any analysis done thus far in terms of job creation is quantifiable,” he said, crediting the city’s former economic development investment fund and its current Make It Kitchener strategy for the success. The new strategy will continue to roll out millions of dollars of seed funding in 2017.

Funding announcements this past year from upper levels of government for light-rail transit, the Transit Hub, Highway 7 improvements and GO infrastructure have helped, but the rising cost of replacing core infrastructure remains challenging for municipalities such as Kitchener that work to keep property tax increases at or within the rate of inflation.

“We’re concerned about the fact that water and sewer rates are going to have to go up significantly as forecasted right now, and that’s why we’re putting a lot of pressure on the other levels of government that we need a different fiscal relationship,” Vrbanovic said. “I think some progress has been made in that regard, but we’re not where we need to be yet.”

Last year the city learned it will have to bank millions of dollars to payout insurance claims of local firefighters after the province expanded presumptive coverage for first responders to include various types of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even more pressing, according to Vrbanovic, is the need for the province to address the arbitration process that continues to inflate municipal budgets by compounding salary awards for first responders.

Other capital costs that came to light in 2016, such as million dollars of upgrades needed for city hall and Carl Zehr Square, will move forward in due time within the city’s existing capital framework, Vrbanovic said.

An update on the city’s comprehensive asset inventory plan spanning more than 250 municipally owned properties will be presented to council in 2017.

Vrbanovic is most looking forward to seeing the final recommendations and roll out of the city’s Neighbourhood Strategy.

“We’ve been able to consult with over 5,000 people and the committee put in thousands of hours of work,” he said. “In February we’ll have a great document to move forward on for neighbourhood improvements by removing red tape and creating action plans to build on the strengths of neighbourhoods.”

Other initiatives underway include Digital Kitchener – a multi-pronged platform with the vision of harnessing the power of digital technology to create a world-class, smart city.

Some key aspects of the framework are projects already approved, such as the implementation of the narrowband/smart controls network along with LED streetlight replacements. New projects under the strategy include the creation of a Civic Innovation Lab at Communitech and setting a public Internet access standard.

“There are a number of development projects that are still in discussions, and I’m hoping some of them will get to the announceable stage in 2017,” Vrbanovic said. “You put all those things together and it’s going to be a very busy year with continued focus on the Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor.”

Innovation, neighbourhoods atop mayor's year in review

News Jan 02, 2017 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post

Christmas might be over, but Mayor Berry Vrbanovic already knows what he wants this year.

“If Santa could bring me a high-speed rail system in the coming year, or at least get it approved and the environmental assessment started, I think Mayor Berry and Kitchener council would be a happy bunch of kids,” he said.

It’s a big ask, and though it may be years before the gift of high-speed rail appears beneath the tree at city hall — a study by a provincial adviser is due later this year — Vrbanovic said strengthening transportation links will be integral to growing the local economy, which is now part of a newly minted Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor.

The partnership announced last spring was among the top gains for the city in 2016, said Vrbanovic, who highlighted his trip to Silicon Valley along with local leaders and Toronto Mayor John Tory. The trip focused on recruiting and repatriating talent and opening the door to new opportunities here at home.

“We think we have some huge opportunities now because of some of the things happening geopolitically, whether it’s because of Brexit or concerns in the tech sector around what a change in government in the U.S. might mean. It’s increased interest levels significantly,” Vrbanovic said.

“Certainly in the tech and innovation sector, we’re seeing progress with the growth of some of our accelerators and incubators. So whether it’s the expanded face of Communitech and the Velocity Garage, the fact we have the Accelerator Centre down here at 44 Gaukel, as well as what’s happening at Catalyst 137, I think speaks to the fact that we’ve made some real inroads and progress on the tech and innovation agenda.”

Vrbanovic points to job creation and the added square feet of expanded employment space, with chain stores such as IKEA opening doors in the retail sector and companies like Boehmer Box and Mitchell Plastics hiring more workers in traditional manufacturing industries.

“Any analysis done thus far in terms of job creation is quantifiable,” he said, crediting the city’s former economic development investment fund and its current Make It Kitchener strategy for the success. The new strategy will continue to roll out millions of dollars of seed funding in 2017.

Funding announcements this past year from upper levels of government for light-rail transit, the Transit Hub, Highway 7 improvements and GO infrastructure have helped, but the rising cost of replacing core infrastructure remains challenging for municipalities such as Kitchener that work to keep property tax increases at or within the rate of inflation.

“We’re concerned about the fact that water and sewer rates are going to have to go up significantly as forecasted right now, and that’s why we’re putting a lot of pressure on the other levels of government that we need a different fiscal relationship,” Vrbanovic said. “I think some progress has been made in that regard, but we’re not where we need to be yet.”

Last year the city learned it will have to bank millions of dollars to payout insurance claims of local firefighters after the province expanded presumptive coverage for first responders to include various types of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even more pressing, according to Vrbanovic, is the need for the province to address the arbitration process that continues to inflate municipal budgets by compounding salary awards for first responders.

Other capital costs that came to light in 2016, such as million dollars of upgrades needed for city hall and Carl Zehr Square, will move forward in due time within the city’s existing capital framework, Vrbanovic said.

An update on the city’s comprehensive asset inventory plan spanning more than 250 municipally owned properties will be presented to council in 2017.

Vrbanovic is most looking forward to seeing the final recommendations and roll out of the city’s Neighbourhood Strategy.

“We’ve been able to consult with over 5,000 people and the committee put in thousands of hours of work,” he said. “In February we’ll have a great document to move forward on for neighbourhood improvements by removing red tape and creating action plans to build on the strengths of neighbourhoods.”

Other initiatives underway include Digital Kitchener – a multi-pronged platform with the vision of harnessing the power of digital technology to create a world-class, smart city.

Some key aspects of the framework are projects already approved, such as the implementation of the narrowband/smart controls network along with LED streetlight replacements. New projects under the strategy include the creation of a Civic Innovation Lab at Communitech and setting a public Internet access standard.

“There are a number of development projects that are still in discussions, and I’m hoping some of them will get to the announceable stage in 2017,” Vrbanovic said. “You put all those things together and it’s going to be a very busy year with continued focus on the Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor.”