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Barrie is the region’s top competitive city for the manufacturing industry and ranks seventh of 111 cities around the world for business competiveness, according to a new report. READ MORE: The 2016 KPMG Competitive Alternatives report, which ranks international business locations and costs, features Barrie as one of 17 Canadian municipalities. Within Canada, Barrie is also listed No. 3 in the digital services sector, seventh in research and development and eighth in corporate services. “Barrie has undergone a transformation,” said Rod Jackson, CEO of Barrie Chamber of Commerce. “ When we lost our general manufacturers, like Molson, General Tire, General Electric, it forced us to be innovative.” Barrie ranked fifth overall compared to the other featured Canadian cities, and it has the lowest costs of all of them for industrial leasing and facility construction. Barrie also has the second-lowest property tax costs and third-lowest transportation and office leasing fees. As well, the city was listed second within the northeast U.S. and central Canada region. “This is excellent news for Barrie. The people who live and work here know our city has a lot to offer and it’s encouraging to see that others are taking notice,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman. “To be ranked No. 1 regionally in manufacturing … confirms what many have already discovered – Barrie is a great place to do business.” Although Barrie did “really well” in the KPMG report, Jackson said the city should be cautious about how it uses the information because it comes from “hypothetical” situations. The sectors in which Barrie ranks high may attract new businesses that had not considered the city before, and the report can be used to mine data about new or growing industries, he said. For example, Jackson said he noticed the “very specific and odd” category of advanced battery production and wondered if Barrie could somehow get involved. “It’s a tool for us to use. It’s up to us to make it happen,” he said. Just as the chamber of commerce once pushed trades training, it is now focusing on technology and health care, he added. “The health-care sector — a lot of people think of that as primarily public,” but there are several private companies in the area, such as Southmedic Inc. and Georgian Radiology, creating disposable surgical equipment and doing high-tech manufacturing, he said. Even well-known organizations such as TD Canada Trust, Bank of Montreal and Cogeco have data technology centres in Barrie that employ “hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “We want to focus on (helping) these companies grow because they have the right supply of employees,” he said. Elsewhere in North America, the KPMG report put Montreal at the top overall among 34 major cities, followed by Toronto and Vancouver. The three Canadian cities beat out all U.S. cities. Canada also ranks high in business competitiveness compared to its global comparators.   It comes second after Mexico for the lowest labour costs; second after Japan for transportation costs; and third after Mexico and Germany for facility costs. The report found a high U.S. dollar has helped Canada stay affordable, despite rising office real-estate costs and lower federal tax credits. When it comes to corporate income taxes, it found Canada, the U.K. and the Netherlands had the lowest rates overall due to tax incentives to support high-tech and research and development. – With files from Torstar News Services  

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Some of the most recognized local business people have become “Easter Seals Stars”. Paired with professional dancers they will compete to be crowned Best Dance Couple. Celebrity judges, along with guests, will determine which dance team will be the winner of Barrie’s 5th annual Dancing with Easter Seals Stars. The event runs April 22 at Liberty North, 100 Caplan Avenue, Barrie. For more information, visit www.easterseals.org

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The city could soon take a closer look at Uber and the new sharing economy. Barrie councillors could send the matter to a city reference committee Monday, after a prompt by Alex Nuttall, Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP. “I urge (council) to consider the successes and the pitfalls experienced in other places and to develop policies to ensure a free and fair market prevails, regulation is reduced and costs for consumers are cut,” he said. This week Mississauga banned Uber, the ride-sharing business which in some cities has thrown the taxi industry into disarray. All ride-sharing firms in Mississauga must halt operations unless they obtain a taxi brokerage licence, and run their business like a traditional cab company. But last week Toronto took the opposite approach, with its council allowing Uber but passing a long list of rules to regulate ride-sharing services. In the sharing economy, owners rent out something they’re not using – a car, bike, house, room, etc. In Barrie, the issue could be debated by members of the finance and corporate services committee. Coun. Michael Prowse is its chairman and said he’s had several conversations with Nuttall about the sharing economy. “Coun. (Andrew) Prince and I thought it time that we start the dialogue on how we will address services like Uber and Airbnb is (a website to list, find, rent lodging) in the future,” Prowse said. “We are fortunate that these services are not yet dominant in the Barrie economy, but we are starting to see their encroachment and our bylaws and regulations must adapt to the changing economy.” Nuttall says local governments right across Canada are making efforts to deny or adapt to the new sharing economy – because traditional firms must operate according to regulations which cut into their bottom line. “At the same time, these innovations (in the sharing economy) have reduced costs to consumers, developed internal quality controls through the collection and release of data and reviews, and amassed a large market share in the process,” he said. “Consumers are choosing services that are deemed more economical and user friendly and are not so heavily regulated,” Prowse said. “As one level of government I believe we need to respect that and course-correct with the times. “We believe this represents an opportune time to have city staff review some of the groundbreaking work already done by typically larger municipalities, and use that as a template for the City Barrie before we face protests and potentially illegal operations within our city.” Nuttall noted municipalities have banned open-market economics, reduced regulations and costs of traditional businesses, and legalized sharing firms. So the decisions about what happens in Barrie need careful thought and thorough research, said the former city councillor. “As always, I ask that you deliver policies that are most beneficial to our consumer and entrepreneurs, as they are also our taxpayers and citizens,” Nuttall said. Sending this matter to committee is an item for discussion on the May 16 agenda, sponsored by both Prowse and Prince. bbruton@postmedia.com @BrutonBob

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A dog walker braves the windy weather along Barrie’s lakeshore Monday morning near the downed branches after last week’s ice storm. At least 10 cm of snow fell in the area overnight, making for tough driving conditions. More flurries and rain is in the forecast for most of the week.

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Banting Memorial High School is holding a big fundraiser later this month to show support for Syrian refugees. The Open Arms for Syria Gala taking place April 21 will feature a three-course meal prepared and served by the senior hospitality classes. Students in the school’s bands and choirs, along with other entertainers, will perform, student artwork will be for sale and there will be a pie auction. All of the proceeds will be donated to the South Simcoe Refugee Rescue Committee and the World Food Program’s emergency fund for refugees. “We want to show why it’s important to support the refugee cause,” said Grade 11 student Auree Mitchell, who is emceeing the event. During the gala, attendees will get to watch an educational video put together by the students about the plight of the refugees. Student council president Pranjl Sharma hopes the event will help “open people’s minds” to the idea of assisting refugee families. “The gala will show we are an inclusive community, and that by helping refugees, it brings in more diversity,” she said. Tickets are $15 each and can be bought until April 14 at the school’s main office or by emailing Julie Valentine at .

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Everyone who lives, works or plays in Innisfil should be excited to learn about the updated Community Strategic Plan, “Inspiring Innisfil 2020”, town officials say. After extensive community conversations and consultations in the past year, the updated version received unanimous support from council last Wednesday. “’Inspiring Innisfil 2020’ captures all the wonderful hopes and dreams for the kind of town we want to have for ourselves and for our children,” said  Mayor Gord Wauchope. “For the first time, we have a community mission and vision, and three important goals that will guide us in everything we do: grow, connect and sustain.” Wauchope championed the revised “Inspiring Innisfil 2020” before an audience of local business leaders at the “Mayor’s Business Breakfast”, last Friday at the Kempenfelt Conference Centre. He outlined some examples of how the community strategic plan would support local business by focusing on promoting economic development, creating more transportation options and enhancing partnerships. “Now that the community strategic plan is updated, the real work begins on implementing key projects and ideas over the coming four years, 2017-2020,” said Jason Reynar, the town’s CAO. “By empowering our community, and partnering together, our future vision of Innisfil will be realized.”  As the implementation plan is completed, there will be ongoing opportunities for the community to get involved and engaged. Visit www.innisfil.ca/strategic-planning for additional details on “Inspiring Innisfil 2020” – Our Community Strategic Plan. A special council meeting will be held May 25 to discuss next steps.

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Both city and provincial police are hitting the asphalt during Canada’s Road Safety Week leading up to one of the most dangerous weekends of the year. Barrie police Sgt. Mark Hyatt said his traffic unit will be targetting aggressive driving, drivers not wearing seatbelts, drivers impaired by drugs and alcohol, and distracted driving. “And we’ll be running RIDE programs in the city starting Friday night and running throughout the long weekend,” Hyatt said. “I think the most important part is the awareness that you’re not the only ones on the road. There are a lot of pedestrians, motorcycles and cars towing trailers, so safety has to be the No. 1 priority,” he said. During the week leading up to the VD weekend in 2015, there were 15 serious accidents involving personal injury or death on the Sunday, 14 on Monday and 17 on Tuesday. For some reason, there were only four on Wednesday, noted OPP’s Sgt. Lynda Cranney, but she did point out there were 23 serious collisions on the Thursday leading up to the long weekend, and another 10 on Friday as people raced around preparing for the long weekend. Cranney said there was a 3% increase in distracted driving charges in 2015, as well as a 4.4% increase in drivers receiving tickets for not wearing their seatbelts. In 2014, there were 2,013 speeding infractions handed out on OPP patrolled roads, which climbed to 2,235 charges for speeding in 2015, she said. “The biggest danger is still distracted driving,” Cranney said, adding it’s a good time to remind drivers of the $490 fine and three demerit points for a first offence of driving while distracted. Comparing personal injuries and fatalities in central Ontario between 2014 and 2015, the OPP is concerned about a 7.8% increase in serious collisions during that time. “Distracted driving is not acceptable when you are operating a motor vehicle,” said OPP’s Chief Superintendent Angie Howe. “If you are preoccupied, talking on your cell phone or texting, you are not focused on driving. It is up to all of us to make Canada Road Safety Week the safest.” The OPP points out there have been 267 motorcycle and 167 off-road vehicle rider deaths since 2006. Provincial police say last year marked the first year that more than half of the motorcyclists who died in OPP-investigated collisions were killed through no fault of their own. The decade-long statistical data shows that 74 of the 167 off-road vehicle serious collisions involved riders who weren’t wearing helmets at the time of the crash. Among the deceased drivers, 69 lost control of their vehicle and had consumed alcohol before or during their ride. In a statement about Canada Road Safety Week, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi said it’s up to everyone to work at keeping Canada’s roads safe. “The Victoria Day long weekend brings thoughts of road trips and family vacations, but as we look forward to summer, we must remember that we all have a role to play in keeping our roads safe. It is up to every one of us to do our part to make sure we drive responsibly to keep all road users safe both this long weekend and all year long,” Naqvi said. Cbrowne@postmedia.com Twitter.com/cherylbrowne1

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The seventh edition of Celebrate Lake Simcoe has been cancelled because organizers weren’t able to access enough funds to stage the annual event this summer. Organizers had applied for a $20,000 grant through the town’s Inspiring Innisfil community grant program, but the grant committee only approved $10,000 for this year’s event. Held at Innisfil Beach Park the third Saturday of July, the event has celebrated both the historic significance and environmental importance of the lake. Founder Beverley Else said while the event hit a snag this year, organizers are planning an extra-special edition next year. “It will be part of the Canadian sesquicentennial and feature Lake Simcoe’s significant role in our nation’s history,” Else said. “The organizing committee is already working hard to develop this outstanding festival for everyone in Innisfil and surrounding communities.”

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The 25th anniversary of the Orillia Business Women’s Association’s Nelle Carter Woman of the Year gala is already being celebrated as 10 people have been nominated. It is the most amount of women who have been nominated for the award in one year, but that doesn’t shock Donna Howlett, past president of the association and one of the organizers of the gala. "I’m not surprised," she said, "because there are so many incredible women in Orillia." Howlett is one of eight people on the association’s executive in charge of the gala. They’re hopeful to put together an evening worthy of the 25 years the award has been handed out and the women who have been honoured. "We’re capturing a lot of the things that have gone by," she said. "We’re going to have a few surprises. It’s not going to be the same old, same old." Howlett congratulated all the nominees, saying, "They should feel really special." Gala tickets cost $45 each and are available at orilliabusinesswomen.com or at Pretty Woman Fitness, Tiffin’s Creative Centre and Northern Business Equipment. The gala will take place May 11 at the Best Western Mariposa Inn. Nelle Carter Woman of the Year nominees are as follows: Liz Westcott: Westcott has been the executive director of Green Haven Shelter for Women since it opened 25 years ago. She is currently the driving force behind a proposal to the provincial government to provide funding to open a new shelter. Kristy Nicole Fleming: A lawyer at Rastin and Associates, Fleming has been keen to help those in need from an early age. A "fighter for people," at 15, she volunteered at the Community Legal Clinic, assisting lawyers to help struggling Orillians to receive free legal services for human-rights infringements, criminal injury compensation, Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan benefits. Luisa Cirimele: Cirimele is the owner of Awakenings Wellness Centre. She recently received the Open Care Patient Choice Award 2015, being chosen from a pool of 23,000 volunteers worldwide. She was also part of the medical team during the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Amanda Bolen: The owner of Discovery Wellness, Bolen has been a registered massage therapist in Orillia for 10 years. She supports her community by being a member of the Lakelands Business Networking International Group, the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce, the Orillia Wellness Network and more. Karen Horst: Horst had a busy 2015. She was elected by clergy and elders from across Canada as moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. As well, she recently represented the denomination at Truth and Reconciliation events in Ottawa and participated in a gender justice event in Cuba involving leadership from the United States, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Canada. Joy Skinner: Skinner always strives for the next level in her professional work environment and in her community involvement. She has been recognized locally, provincially and internationally for her contributions, including being named Orillia Citizen of the Year. Gill Tillmann: Tillmann, for many years, has demonstrated exceptional community leadership through her work as an educator and at Couchiching Jubilee House. Her leadership has improved the lives of others by her investment in time and energy. She has worked with others finding solutions that result in the improved health and well-being of the community. Wendy Timpano: Timpano has been general manager of the Orillia Area Community Development Corporation since August 2010. The role gives her a unique perspective and ability to serve the community, and by all accounts she has taken full advantage. She consistently goes above and beyond the duties required of her to seek out and implement better ways to serve and improve the community. Wendy Ann Thorne: Thorne is the owner of Fur’z-a Fly’n Dog Grooming and has been lauded for going above and beyond for her four-legged clients, taking them for walks in the bush and providing them with playtime all day and a relaxing atmosphere so they are cage-free and do not require medication that was needed previously while they wait for their owners to come for them. Debbie Woodhouse: Woodhouse has been with OPP since 1989. In those years, she has been an innovator for the advancement of the organization and employee wellness. She also volunteers to supervise high-school and college students during co-op experiences, co-ordinates yoga instruction and is a mentor for employees going through OPP’s rigorous interview process. The Lisa Brooking Young Woman of the Year award will be handed out at the gala as well. Three people are in the running. Morgan W. Fitzgerald: The Grade 12 student is managing to keep her grades at almost 90% even though she participates in many sports and clubs at school. She has been described as a model student who always tries her best and pushes herself to achieve even more. She will attend the University of British Columbia in the fall to study psychology. Volunteering is something Fitzgerald often does for fun. Christy Scott: Scott is described by teachers as "an exceptional thinker and planner, a unique and remarkable student with an affable and engaging character, as well as an enthusiastic participant always willing to volunteer in any activity." She is always there to help others to understand, improve and reach their own successes. Scott will attend Queen’s University in the fall. Heidi Hayes: Hayes is described as a unique nominee because of what she has gone through in her life, but also because of what she has achieved in spite of it. As a young girl, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. That has not stopped her from surpassing her goals. She has reached Grade 12, excelling in many areas including being on the honour roll for four years. Hayes strives for higher goals, believing every day is a miracle. 

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 Collingwood Public Library is presenting its Spring 2016 Author Talks series with an emphasis on different ways of looking at the past. READ MORE: C Three authors will each look at history in their own way, from biography and autobiography to historical fiction. Collingwood Public Library Author Talks is a series presented each spring and fall, which brings popular Canadian authors to Collingwood for an hour of discussion followed by a book signing. The Spring 2016 line-up includes: On Thursday, April 14 Terry Reardon discusses Winston Churchill & MacKenzie King: So Similar, So Different. Reardon explores the 50-year relationship between Britain’s great wartime leader and Canada’s longest serving prime minister. A director of the International Churchill Society in Canada, Reardon gives an insightful look into the minds of these two men, focusing on the crucial years of World War II. On Thursday, May 19 Richard B. Wright discusses A Life in Words. Award-winning author Richard B. Wright looks back over a long and illustrious literary career and examines the influences that shaped his life and his craft. Wright was the winner of the Governor General’s Award and Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel, Clara Callan. On Thursday, June 30: Susanna Kearsley discusses A Desperate Fortune. Kearsley talks about her latest historical novel, a tale blending romantic Jacobite secrets with a contemporary search for answers. A former museum curator and author of over 11 novels, Kearsley weaves meticulous historical research into a compelling and entertaining narrative. Talks take place between 7 and 8:30 p.m. at the Collingwood Public Library.

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