Don Mills, CEO of Corporate Research Associates, made an interesting point at a recent St. John's Board of Trade luncheon: our province's unemployment rate is going to drop from the highest in Canada to the national average in about 5 years.
That's great news, and as a candidate running for councillor at large in St. John's, I was very excited to hear him say that. But as a councillor, my job will be to assess a long-term view and make decisions that set us on a path to sustainable prosperity. And a rapidly dropping unemployment rate also indicates a major challenge: labour shortages.
The major projects that are currently fueling our economy (Hebron, Voisey's Bay, and Muskrat Falls come to mind) require thousands of skilled workers to keep them running. These workers spend their wages in our city and province, and along with the project revenues, this spending is what gives us the "boom times" we're starting to experience.
But what if there aren't enough people to fill the predicted 70,000 jobs opening up in the next several years? If people don't move here to work, then these projects can falter, stall, or be cancelled completely. And that would be a very big hit to our future success.
This is the challenge: we have to make sure people want to live here. Otherwise they won't come to work here.
So how can we get people to want to live in our city? The good news is that we have a lot going for us.
Click here to watch a short video of what attaches people to their place.
Recently, Happy City partnered with Municipalities NL and MUN's Harris Centre to present a public discussion on what attaches people to their town or city. Katherine Loflin of the Knight Foundation told us about a major research project that found the following:
"Of the 10 attributes [of resident attachment to place] studied, the top three were:
- Social Offerings – Places for people to meet each other and the feeling that people in the community care about each other;
- Openness – How welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college graduates; and
- Aesthetics – The physical beauty of the community including the availability of parks and green spaces."
"One of the other major findings from the study showed that the communities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth."
In other words, if we want our economy to flourish for years to come, St. John's has to be a place where the most diverse set of people want to live. We have to be a globally-minded metropolis that is welcoming, caring, and proud.
I'm running to make sure our decisions keep these objectives in mind. How can St. John's do more to attract and retain new- (and old-) comers?