The future is bright in the County where business retention and expansion are concerned, if the municipality takes advantage of opportunities and addresses challenges says Director of Community Development Neil Carbone.
On Thursday, Carbone provided the committee of the whole with his insights into the recent business retention and expansion survey that looked at data and challenges faced by the construction and manufacturing sector.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) provides no-charge tools and resources for communities conducting BR+E surveys and allows them to see how their results are relative to 73 other rural Ontario municipalities.
As part of the process municipal staff interviewed 60 County business owners.
On the positive side, 80% of employers said their industry is growing in the County, 30% higher than the provincial average. Fifty percent said employment has gone up in the past three years in the County. Driving trends include: quality of life, the County’s natural beauty, a growing wine region, an influx in new residents, tourism draw, creative energy, entrepreneurs and the fact the County is located between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
On the flip side there is still a lot of work to do with 88% admitting they are having difficulty hiring. Some employers were quoted as saying there needs to be a strategy implemented to get more people with skilled trades. Others said there needs to be more done to attract young working families to the County.
Seventy percent said the quality of the workplace is poor and 55% indicated they were experiencing barriers to receiving the necessary training – double the provincial average.
Access to affordable housing proved to be another difficulty for employers looking to bring workers in from out of town. Especially where the farms and wineries are concerned. Red tape with building lodging on prime agricultural land seemed to prove problematic.
Councillor Dave Harrison pointed out how canneries were once very popular and thriving in the County like wineries are today. “It comes down to demographics,” he said. “We had 1,800 high school students now we have 500. If you needed someone to come and help milk the cows there was someone right down the street. You don’t have the people to plug into the tourism. The students were here to fill that niche before.”
Carbone said even though the majority experience challenges there are a number that aren’t, that have put effort in their retention activities. He pointed to how Loyalist College is developing a program to help employers retain staff.
Carbone said next steps include looking at how they align with corporate strategic plan, development framework, release to the community, inform 2017 budget and work plans, continue BR+E initiative and other sectors, and revisit sectors every two to three years.
“I’m committed, I feel the rest of staff is committed to it and I hope council is committed to it,” Carbone explained. “We had a lot of stuff we didn’t know and a lot of stuff that is out of date. But now we can move ahead. Now we have to decide how we deal with it. We are proposing initiatives that address these issues and shifting attention from other areas that don’t address these things.”