Economic uncertainty hit Smooth Rock Falls in 2006 when Tembec permanently closed its pulp mill. But more than a decade later, a number of new incentives are promising to invigorate the small town of 1,330 north of Timmins.
In 2014, the town established a 20-year official plan, which includes a community improvement plan and a new marketing strategy designed to attract new business and residents to the community.
That strategy, which markets the town as 'Near North, near perfect,' was completed and launched this past September, and with it, the town announced some striking incentives for newcomers, including inexpensive land, tax breaks, and business loans.
The approach gained national attention, resulting in "hundreds and hundreds of inquiries" from people interested in living, working, and conducting business in the town, said Luc Denault, the community's CAO and director of economic development.
"We're quite humbled and appreciative of all the interest," Denault said. "Certainly we expected some uptake, but not to the level that we've been receiving and continue to receive."
It's not hard to see why. Among the incentives are land packages for 90 per cent below market value; generous tax breaks for homeowners over three years; grants for business owners of up to 15 per cent of eligible costs; loan guarantees for construction projects for up to 50 per cent of construction costs; and a tax increment grant program for businesses.
The town initially released 13 serviced residential lots for purchase, and a Toronto business man, Roman Bodnarchuk, purchased them all with the intention of building homes on them.
But still more interest came in, and so the town released a second round of residential, commercial and rural properties. The closing date for that sale was Jan. 15.
Denault believes that, while the incentives will initially attract newcomers to the community, it will be its affordability, slower pace, speedy access to key services, and quality of life that will convince people to stay.
Its natural attributes allow residents to enjoy outdoor pleasures such as cross-country skiing, ATVs, or snowmobiling, while essential services like emergency medicine are accessible within 10 minutes, Denault said.
"We believe it's a great place for people to retire, and it's a great place for young families to come and live and work," he said.
"Forty per cent of the community is commuting, so we believe that there's an opportunity there for people to...