Growing our community

A recent article in the Sault Star highlighted a key point that was discussed during a local roundtable meeting held by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen with industry representatives, union officials, post-secondary staff, service providers and sector experts landed on a key issue: the need for more immigration to Sault Ste. Marie as a means to address our community’s shortage of skilled workers, the effects of which are being felt locally.

It is an issue I spoke about with Minister Hussen and it is an issue the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors feel can be helped by a policy change. As outlined in a letter to Minister Hussen, the NOLUM feels Northern Ontario is a fit for a program similar to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. The program sees the Federal Government and four Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) help employers in the region hire job candidates who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents by expediting the immigration process. The candidates fill jobs employers have had trouble filling locally.

The Sault’s largest employer, Algoma, provides an example of the local need for immigration. The steelmaker has about 700 workers eligible for retirement and there is a shortage of skilled workers ready to fill these positions. Part of the issue is a lack of younger people obtaining an education related to the skilled trades, and this is certainly something that can be addressed through community development (and our community development roundtable’s sub-group focused on education), but in the near-term expedited immigration to our community would help local employers like Algoma fill positions and it would benefit the community as a whole.

Another great example of the need for labour in our community is JD Aero. JD Aero is a dynamic and growing company that employs approximately 150 people and operates from hangars on the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation property. JD Aero does aircraft maintenance for a number of different companies and airlines. I met with its executive this month and they were clear: there is more business to be had and if they could find the people, they can employ those people and grow their business. As a company, they were supportive of the NOLUM request for an immigration pilot in Northern Ontario. I committed to work with JD Aero to support their business and we will do so.

Newcomers moving to Sault Ste. Marie for well-playing, middle class jobs will provide a boost to our local economy. These people will buy homes, vehicles and recreational options, resulting in an increased consumer confidence that can lead to new businesses starting and existing businesses expanding.

Aside from a need for immigration, Sault Ste. Marie possess the capacity needed to help newcomers adjust to life in our community. We have fantastic organizations such as the Local Immigration Partnership, Sault Community Career Centre, Refugee 705 and Global Friends.

While remedial efforts to address the province’s immigration imbalance would provide much needed assistance, there are steps the City can take. For example, the development of a community brand can help attract people to our area. Sault Ste. Marie offers numerous quality of life benefits in community with modern amenities. Our location is a defining strength. We are a stone’s throw from Canada’s largest trading partner, a short flight to Toronto, at the heart of the greatest fresh water resource in the world, surrounded by natural power generation, and in the midst of some of the best mountain biking, skiing, hiking, sailing, camping, and cottage country in North America. Unlike many major urban centres, buying a home in Sault Ste. Marie is a reasonable prospect. Telling this story through the development of a community brand and advertising campaigns will help attract people to our community, and we are working on a community branding project that will come before City Council this fall or early winter.