Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot seeing big demand

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

One of the main focuses of the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission this year is the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, which continues to fuel employment in the North and garner advocacy to make it permanent.

Since the pilot’s inception in 2020, Jamie Taylor, chief executive officer of the economic development commission, said they’ve had 987 recommendations into the program with significant growth in the number of employers that have registered for it.

“We have more than 600 employers in our community and the 14 other communities registered for the program, which shows the demand and that employers are looking for that labour force to fill the positions that they have,” Taylor said, adding that they will continue to advocate to the federal government to make the program permanent.

“It has really ramped up this year and the demand has been unprecedented in terms of the number of candidates that are applying for the program,” she said. “We’ve had to shift gears and put in some more resources dedicated to that to make sure that we could keep up with the demand. It’s a good problem to have.”

Taylor said they have raised the profile of Thunder Bay with their Invest Ontario and Invest Canada colleagues who provide “leads” for investments from all over the world.

“We hosted them in June and spoke to them about all the opportunities that lie here, and (as a result) we’ve seen several leads come our way,” she said. “Being on their radar now is a successful accomplishment for us.”

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission saw 113 businesses receive the Digital Transformation Grant and 83 businesses were supported through access to the Digital Mainstreet program.

“Under our tourism development fund, we approved 29 new projects, which was an investment of more than $645,000,” Taylor said. “This funding comes through the municipal accommodation tax, the portion that we receive here at the (Community Economic Development Commission),” she said. “That money leveraged $1.9 million in other funding into the community.”

It was another successful year for the cruise ship industry in Thunder Bay with 14 port visits and more than 5,000 passengers into the city. That reflects just under $4 million of economic impact. The economic development commission anticipates 24 cruise vessels to come into port next year and work continues to attract new cruise lines.

Taylor says her first full year in her role at the economic development commission has been a smooth transition for her and the team.

“We’ve made some changes internally, which aligns our work better to what our strategic plan is aiming to achieve,” she said.

Taylor pointed out that they are seeing retail sales and tourism growth with hotel occupancy continuing to be strong.

“Although the markets are not great, we’re still seeing a lot of activity in the mining sector,” she noted. “We still have nine active mines in the area with over 15 advanced exploration projects, and those are all projects that do business with Thunder Bay, whether it’s getting employees, mining supplies or services. They’re buying their goods and services from here and that really impacts our economy.”

Taylor also cited the construction of the new jail as a big boost to the local economy.

Ahead into 2024, Taylor predicts stability and growth in some areas.

“Employment is likely to continue to rise and there’s still strong growth in construction and transportation, warehousing finance, insurance and real estate for our economy,” she said. “We do expect that the population is going to continue to rise modestly and that helps our economy. We expect that retail is going to stay stable if not grow and we also anticipate that there could be some decisions made on lithium processing.”

Taylor says it’s hard to say if there is still a threat of a recession.

“I think that we just need to be cautious but still make decisions to move forward,” she said. “We will continue to monitor things and look for opportunities to ensure that we do the best that we can to help grow our economy here.”

The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission will continue to advocate for growth in the community while working on several different projects that are tied to its strategic plan.

“Our pillars in our strategic plan are natural resources, workforce and immigration, development, tourism, strengthening our community and business support,” she said. “We want to continue to work with the companies on successfully landing a lithium processing facility here in Thunder Bay to develop the supply chain which will be a big growth opportunity for our community.”