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The Review

Report of The Economic Development Advisory Committee

Posted On: Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Economic Development Advisory Committee presented updates on their key priorities to Council at the Committee of the Whole, Jan 29 including:

Report of The Economic Development Advisory Committee

- Championing the creation of attainable housing
- Highlighting the need for more child care spaces
- The new Tourism Labour Supply Task Force. 

Staff are planning to bring a report to Council on Wednesday, February 21st at 1pm.

*********************

An editorial by A Siegwart, Chair, South Georgian Bay Tourism Labour Supply Task Force

Labour Shortage, Local Lifestyle and the Case for Leadership and Community Collaboration

Lifestyle is our Anchor - Local residents enjoy world-class amenities in our beautiful community thanks to our unique natural environment and our local heritage of tourism and outdoor adventure.  For decades, this heritage has attracted new full and part-time residents, retirees and visitors to our region.  It is a true statement that agriculture and tourism have come through for our community in the past and innovation in these industries represents a big part of our future.  As a top 4 domestic and international destination in all of Ontario, residents enjoy amazing benefits: independent café culture; culinary and agricultural experiences; shopping to rival any authentic main street in Ontario; world-class art, music, theatre and culture; attractions and festivals; local cider, beer and wine that are truly unique; outdoor adventure experiences that are unparalleled in the province; trails and waterways, and much more!  When I speak with local residents, they ask me to protect these services and to support the entrepreneurs who make it all happen every day.  They also want businesses to improve and innovate as trends and tastes evolve, our local tastes are quite sophisticated!   

However, we have challenges today that pose risks to our lifestyle and our local economy:

Our Local Workforce Is Declining - Since 2004 our regional labour force (as measured in Bruce, Grey, Huron and Perth Counties) has dropped by 11% or 18, 700 people.  Population aging and growth among resident retirees is the primary factor followed by out-migration of residents in the 18-24 and 25-44 age ranges.  Our young people are leaving our communities.  Those who stay are participating in the workforce at rates that are higher than the provincial average; meaning, workforce growth has to include recruitment from outside our communities.       

Affordable Housing for Young People and Families is in Steep Decline – According to the Georgian Triangle Real Estate Report for 2017, new housing and resale activity in our region delivered record numbers in 2017.  While high-cost and high-end properties are on the rise (31% year-over-year growth in the $500K-$799K price range and 36% year over-year-growth in the $800K-$999K price range), entry level housing posted steep declines (41% year-over-year drop in the sale of units priced below $300K, and a 5% year-over-year drop in units priced between $300K-$499K).  While higher-end properties continue to increase in value benefiting homeowners and increasing municipal taxes collected, housing units for young adults, growing families, employees and our young people is rapidly decreasing.  The majority of young people who work in The Blue Mountains, in fact, live in Wasaga Beach, Collingwood, Meaford and beyond.  The sharing economy, a relatively recent phenomenon, has further eliminated potential rental suites and reduced housing stock.  In fact, Town of The Blue Mountains operates a Short Term Accommodation (STA) program to license and regulate such establishments.  There are almost 250 such units in our municipality.  These are the units that are known.  Other municipalities do not have such a process, and a quick scan of AirBnB or other home sharing platforms quickly shows how many units, apartments and homes are available to visitors in South Georgian Bay vs. resident or workforce rental uses.  In a way, this is a measure of our economy’s success; more and more people want to visit our region.  Further, many local homeowners are benefiting from the ability to rent their homes and participate in the tourism economy.  Without proactive plans to study the impacts of our changing housing stock and usage, and without replacing the declining inventory of entry-level units that were once available, we are allowing the situation to worsen.           

Childcare Shortages are Keeping Parents Underemployed – 55% of recent survey respondents in Town of The Blue Mountains told us that lack of available childcare is limiting their ability to secure the employment that they would like.  Limits to these critical services present barriers to growth and limits to employment opportunities for families who want to settle in our town.     

Regional Tourism Employers are Struggling to Fill Job Vacancies – 65% of hospitality and tourism employers have indicated via a November 2017 labour market survey that they have positions that are hard to fill.  Further 54% of other regional employers (e.g., construction, transportation, trades, manufacturers, etc.) have also indicated that they are all feeling the pinch.  While tourism has taken a leadership role in sounding the alarm, it is in fact all sectors of our economy that are experiencing labour shortages, which in turn, reduce local residents’ services in a number of ways.  I have been hearing from residents that it takes far too long for home renovations to be completed today.  I also get asked why local stores or restaurants are not open later or more regularly.  With a tight labour supply projected for the next 10 years or more, this will only continue to worsen.  If things don’t change, I fear entrepreneurs will be forced to look elsewhere to grow their businesses, leaving service gaps in our communities.  This should not happen.    

The Elephant in the Room

We are at a point in our municipality where collaboration on future development needs is a necessity.  Unfortunately, important stakeholders like government, businesses, and residents’ groups have not been able to come together to chart a progressive course forward.  We are all aware of what various groups ‘oppose’, but we rarely come together to discuss what is ‘possible’.  I believe that it is time for us to take a 360 degree look at our future and figure out what we can do to support our lifestyle, community, economy and workforce.  It’s time to think about what is possible.   

We Need Infrastructure to Keep our Lifestyle Strong –  With this philosophy in mind, a Task Force of regional leaders from municipalities, counties, not-for-profit businesses, educators, and tourism operators have come together to develop a 5-point plan to address these challenges.  The plan includes:

  1. Encourage local municipalities and their planning departments to explore diverse housing models to ensure that our communities have housing stock available for people during all life stages.
  2. Explore private and public partnerships to elevate transit services in the region to benefit residents, workforce and visitors.  Our economy forces too many workers into cars commuting longer distances which increases our local environmental footprint, congestion, and more.
  3. Employers are getting very creative as they compete for talent.  Small businesses may not be able to adapt as quickly as larger companies.  As such, we are bringing the business community together more frequently to share ideas, best practices, and strategies to improve employee retention, recruitment techniques and compensation models. 
  4. Encourage employers and stakeholders to support growth in local training and post-secondary programs.      
  5. Advocate for more childcare services in our communities

This is not an exhaustive list, but an important starting point.  It is acknowledged that these goals require engagement and collaboration with residents, businesses, municipalities, the Province, and more.  More importantly, it is going to take true leadership and collaboration to serve our business community and to ensure that our local lifestyle continues to improve for residents.  

Up Next - Members of our Tourism Labour Supply Task Force will retain a consultant this month to help us create a regional roadmap and recommendations for diverse housing and accommodation projects.  We will connect with employers, employees, municipalities, residents and more through the process so that we can present ideas and solutions that are possible and sustainable.  A meeting of transit stakeholders is taking place this month as well.  The goal is to set a platform for collaboration amongst regional public, private and active transportation partners related to major employer transportation challenges, and to identify main challenges & needs.

I welcome the participation of local groups in our efforts and invite you to reach out to me personally so that we can start conversations.

Sincerely,

Andrew Siegwart

asiegwart@bluemountainvillage.ca

Follow link to the town page for video of presentation - scroll to bottom of page

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