For an Even Better Amherstburg
It is nice to be back at the Chamber’s annual business excellence awards. I always enjoy saluting organizations and people for their excellent performance. Tonight is our chance to recognize the very best in everything from hospitality, service, non profit, accessibility, entrepreneurial, professional, employer, legacy.
One of the categories that I am watching closely is the New Business category where there are three very deserving nominees. But no matter who wins all of the nominated candidates live up to the Chamber’s mission which is to “positively impact the business growth and prosperity of Amherstburg”.
Again congrats to you all for being nominated
Wow. I think you would all agree that Amherstburg has been on a bt of a roll - new businesses, new hotels on the horizon, rising property values and an increased feeling of optimism. And that buzz is not only being felt here in our town, it’s also being recognized by the media and people from outside the town. Of course I am talking about the trifecta of awards the town recently earned :
Best new festival
Having one of the top 100 festivals
Municipality of the year. Is a really big one
Congratulations to everyone who had a hand in these three awards with a special shout out to Anne Rota and her tourism and culture team.
So clearly Amherstburg is getting to be a better place to live and visit. But you know? I really believe the best is yet to come. Together we can help create an even better Amherstburg. The opportunity is definitely here for us and the time has never been better to realize significantly more success in the town.
When I retired after fourteen very busy years at Maple Leaf Sports I chose to get far, far away from pucks and hoops. Instead I chose to embark on a personal journey of learning and growth. I decided to learn about what it took to be a good community builder. The past dean of the Rotman School of Management Dr. Roger Martin believes that community builders need to be leaders, “leaders that adds bricks to the civil foundation”. In his book Fixing the Game” Martin writes that all organizations and all leaders have three choices when it comes to their community.
One. Leaders can do nothing.
Two. Leaders can actually choose to take bricks away by how they conduct their business and by leading with negativism, and resisting any change.
Or the best leadership approach - they can lay bricks to help increase the robustness of their community foundation.
Now Roger’s book, my research, my reading, my expanded networking with community building experts and my extensive travel to great communities across the world convinced me that I could be and should be that metaphoric brick layer. During these past couple years I have learned a lot of community best practices and met a lot of knowledgeable, positive and impressive people. But unfortunately I have also seen the opposite of that - the naysayers, the status quo, the NIMBY’s, people who resist any change using the rallying call “not in my back yard”. People who want things but aren’t willing to pay the price. Unfortunately every community has them and Amherstburg is no different.
Personally I haven’t ever seen a community where the loud status quo group of citizens isn’t a factor. However, the real difference between the under performing communities versus the good, progressive, growing, leading communities, is leadership. Leadership from the community’s elected officials and leadership from the non elected community leaders who don’t allow the bad actors to be a negative factor.
Now I am not suggesting people should not be heard.
What I am suggesting is don’t give much credence to a loud but small group who yell and criticize just about anything new on social media. When I ran the Maple Leafs and Raptors I was constantly being bombarded by the internet trolls but we had a saying, ‘if you listen to the small group of loud fans too much you will soon be sitting with them”. So I ask all of you not to sit with them, instead aspire to have an Amherstburg community that is positive, that uses empirical data, science, and international best practices for making decisions, aspire to being a community that is progressive and dreams about being even better because standing still is never an option.
When I think about standing still I am reminded of what a Greek philosopher said hundreds of years ago, ‘’The river I step in is not the river I stand in”.
Think about that for a minute, “the river I step in is not the river I stand in”.
You see just as 88 million gallons of detroit river water flow past us every minute the detroit river is always changing just as things are constantly changing in Amherstburg and in the world. New technologies. New tastes, new opportunities, the environment for damn sure and people are changing too. To me the changing river quote stresses the importance of adjusting strategic plans and staying up with the times. Also if one wants to realize community ambitions it is important and necessary to invest in our community.
It is a simple fact that great communities cost money. They are never free
In today’s “anti tax” world too many politicians are elected on a promise to only increase taxes at or below inflation or claim that they don’t need tax increases because they will find cuts and the famous “efficiencies”. While all organizations can find some efficiencies they will seldom cover the ability to have low taxes. Low taxes is a formula that is always doomed to fail. Inflation in Ontario through January was a little over 2 percent. The recent property tax increase approved by our council was only 1.87% and to get there council cut a few things I think would have helped the image of our town.
A community that keeps property taxes really low will never have the necessary funds to be invested. In roads, parks, and the many town services that are necessary to make our community liveable for all. Low taxes will also not allow us to invest in exciting new initiatives that will make the community even more liveable in the future .
Now I know that a change in thinking about taxes or new initiatives is sometimes tough to do. Studies have shown that as humans we actually have a bias for the status quo. We tend to fear loss more than we value gain. But to be an even better Amherstburg, to be the best small town in Ontario to live and visit, we need to change our conversation from being largely about short term self interests to forward thinking public interest. To change from small interest projects to the big picture opportunities, and yes addressing the big challenges facing our community.
A snow plow approach to necessary investments is not the way to address big issues because pushing them out until some time in the future, like a plow pushes snow down the road in the winter is the most expensive way to address issues. It is reactive instead of being proactive and being reactive always costs more money.
Now I fully understand that where we live is deeply personal. Our relationship with our streets, parks, our community is one of the most important relationships in our lives but I believe that a progressive leadership by all of us in this room will improve our personal relationships, make us all better citizens. Last year I was involved in Toronto’s municipal election. I championed a more progressive and best practices approach to investing in Toronto.
However the Toronto election results were hugely disappointing to me. Toronto voters were apathetic - only 41% of illegible voters voted. And those who did - overwhelmingly voted for status quo leadership. So I decided to pull back and spend more time working on my Boblo garden. Then one day our Amhertsburg mayor invited me out for a coffee and asked me to take the lead on restarting the Amherstburg Community Foundation.
Now I had experience with foundations as I was on the Toronto Foundation Board for three years so I knew that good community foundations contribute leadership and financial support to local initiatives, and encourage people to give back to their communities. However, to be perfectly clear the funds raised by foundations do not replace taxes. What they can do - if you like - is give a community some topspin. They can add positive momentum to opportunities and they can address some community issues .
Now frankly I was reluctant to agree to Aldo’s request. I wasn’t sure about taking on another public role so I asked my wife Colleen what she thought and Colleen said to me:
“We love living in Amherstburg, we have already invested significantly in the community. You enjoy being an active philanthropist and Richard you definitely know what it takes to makes communities great, so why wouldn’t you want to add bricks to Amherstburg?”
You see, Colleen had read Roger Martin’s book too.
So I accepted and just this past Monday a new board of directors was elected to run the “new and improved” Amherstburg Community Foundation with me as their unpaid president. In fact with no paid employees, just volunteers, to keep our expenses low and return almost every dollar we raise right back into the community with a board is made up of very credible community leaders that are ready to actively raise funds. Some of our directors are in the room tonight:
Jen Desjardins-Grondin - whose family has created the very impressive GL Heritage Brewing Company. I believe they won award at last years Chamber event .
Lori Wightman who works at a community jewel - our Carnegie library
Dan Gemus and Chris Gibb who have been leaders of this Chamber for years
Not with us tonight are Wolfheads’ Tom Manherz and Dave Beneteau
The “new” community foundation board is now independent, no longer dependent on the town administration. It has its own bylaws, legal representation, insurance, auditor and will have its own website.
Our foundation vision is a simple one - it’s to help make Amherstburg a great place to visit and an even better place to live.
How are we going to do that?
By making our decisions based on our three core values:
Creating an environment that helps maintain or improve overall health (body, mind, and spirit) of all citizens and visitors.
Encourage citizens and visitors to do something, learn more, create more, become motivated.
Broad, extensive, welcoming to all, appeal to the widest number of citizens and visitors.
The board has already identified five initiatives on our short list. These initiatives collectively address education, physical health, our town heritage. Active play and very topical social issues. We plan to nail down which initiatives we will support over the next couple of weeks. Once we get a couple of successful initiatives behind us we will invite people to submit initiatives that are consistent with ACF’s three values.
The new Amherstburg Community Foundation Board will not just be a passive board that simply meets every quarter- it will be out knocking on business doors, visiting residents in their homes asking for the order, getting people engaged in investing in Amherstburg. Also all the ACF directors are putting their money where their mouth is. They are prepared to walk the talk. The seven directors have already personally committed to donating $140,000 over the next three years, with sixty thousand of that funding coming in this year alone.
In June the foundation will have a public event to kick off our community fund at the Libro Centre. At that meeting you will have a chance to meet your neighbours who make up the board and hear from the organizations that ACF is helping raise funds for - more details about our June kickoff event will be out shortly.
Now an absolute key to the success of our foundation will be your generosity, ultimately nothing will be possible without your financial participation.
Right now I am really pleased that we have seven excellent community leaders on our board but we could use 2-3 more. There are almost two hundred community leaders in this room tonight if you are a leader interested in helping make amherstburg an even better place to live and visit by being on the active foundation board or in hearing about what initiatives we are championing grab me before you leave tonight or give me or the directors in this room your business card and we can arrange a discussion with me or another director . If you would like to donate money to the foundation give us your name or think about it over the next couple of days and reach out to us then and be sure to come to our kick off event in June
Ok now before I get off this stage let me read to you a leadership quote from John Quincy Adams that closed our board meeting Monday night,
A quote that I thought would challenge not only the leaders of the new Amherstburg Community Foundation but also should challenge the many community leaders here tonight and I quote
“if your actions inspire people. To dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. You are a leader”
You are the type of leader Amherstburg needs, the type of leader our foundation needs so in closing - congrats to tonight’s winners and also to the people and organizations that do not win.
You are all making a really positive difference
Also thanks to the Chamber for allowing me to share my thoughts on community building with you but most importantly I encourage all of you when you leave tonight to be bricklayers for an even better Amherstburg