The term "boom town" was used to describe Regina in its infancy, when the future city was little more than a few wooden buildings, rudimentary houses, tents and stables in the 1880s.
Well, if early settlers thought that was a boom, the term certainly applies to the impressive expansion Regina is currently enjoying.
Even in a city used to good news of late, it's been quite a week:
- On Tuesday, the first phase of the $350-million Canadian Logistics Services (CLS) Distribution Centre officially opened. It's the first development in the massive multimodal transportation hub that will bring together rail, truck and possibly air cargo facilities just west of the city.
CLS will handle a variety of merchandise for Loblaw Companies and will move "80 semi-loads of groceries each and every day", Premier Brad Wall said. It currently employs 176 people, but the workforce will grow to up to 800 later this year. The province is said to be "very close" to announcements about other companies moving to the hub.
- On Thursday, Statistics Canada reported that Regina is the third fastest-growing metro area in the country after Saskatoon and Vancouver. The population of Regina and area swelled by almost 5,000 between July 2009 and July 2010, to an estimated 215,138 people. Particularly encouraging is the fact the Regina census metropolitan area's median age of 36.9 was fourth lowest in the nation. (Saskatoon, whose population jumped by 7,240 (to 265,259) has a median age of 35.4 -the lowest in Canada). Just a few years ago, when outmigration was at its height, it was feared Regina would have an aging population with too few young people. It's also good to know international immigration is playing a big part in population growth as the world discovers what Regina has to offer.
- Friday brought another Statistics Canada report, this time showing Regina with the lowest unemployment of all Canadian cities surveyed at just 4.5 per cent. There was a year-over-year increase of 6,700 jobs. Regina (and thirdplace Saskatoon) helped the province achieve a 5.4 per cent jobless rate, second in the nation after Manitoba.
Though some progress is being made, aboriginal unemployment remains unacceptably high. However, the city's biggest issue remains the short supply of rental housing -particularly affordable accommodation. Virtually all newcomers -even those who plan to buy property -initially need rental housing, yet the vacancy rate hovers around one per cent. Longer-term renters on low incomes -many of them aboriginal -are struggling with rising rents.
We look forward to the release of the province's housing strategy in June, which promises to have an "an emphasis on affordable and accessible housing". Municipalities, home builders, real estate organizations, chambers of commerce and community-based organizations across the province are working on solutions to this issue.
Affordable housing is a crucial element to marketing Regina and maintaining population growth. The pioneers might have been prepared to rough it in tents in the 19th century, but that's hardly an option for newcomers today.
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