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Here’s how Mayor Jeff Lehman got a struggling Rust Belt city to thrive

Here’s how Mayor Jeff Lehman got a struggling Rust Belt city to thrive
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]


Barrie, a city of 150,000, north of Toronto, was facing the same issues as Rust Belt cities south of its border when Jeff Lehman was first elected mayor nine years ago: declining manufacturing, little affordable housing, and a coming opioid crisis. But the former urban planner, now in his third term, has grown Barrie’s economy while boosting social services. Here’s how:

  • By offering discounts on industrial development charges and low industrial taxes, Barrie set a city record last year for industrial building permits issued, and ended 2018 with unemployment below the national average. Many of these businesses have a tech bent, focusing on data management and security, robotics (for Tesla and SpaceX), and more. Investments in shared infrastructure—such as the $5 million committed to build an anechoic chamber at a local university (to test noise and electromagnetic emissions from cars and devices)—help attract talent. “Low-wage jobs don’t get you the Canadian dream anymore,” Lehman says.
  • As part of a new “housing first” policy for development, the city worked with nonprofits to convert an old motel into supported housing for people with mental health and addiction issues.
  • A community medicine program Lehman championed, which deploys paramedics with downtime to visit seniors at home, has reduced 911 calls by 75% and driven a 76% drop in ER visits by frequent users.
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