By CHERYL BRINK CBRINK@STANDARD-FREEHOLDER.COM
Updated 12 hours ago
CORNWALL — Leaders in business, politics and community agencies gathered on Wednesday to brainstorm new ways to attract immigrants to the region.
The Eastern Ontario Training Board hosted the event, which featured an official from the Conference Board of Canada who spoke about how to compete for the incoming workforce.
"Cornwall is among the communities in Canada that have this as a major priority," said Diana MacKay, director of education, health and immigration. "...Cornwall seems at the ready to get serious about a strategy for successful integration of newcomers."
She said she was impressed with the 50-plus attendees from various industries and organizations who came to hear "how to make Cornwall and region the most attractive."
MacKay said they face a challenge because the five counties —– networked in a Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) — are not well known beyond Ontario.
"They have to market the region and its goals," she said. "Everyone is competing for the best available talent."
During a question-and-answer session, MacKay noted Canada is currently accepting 250,000 new residents each year, which is not sustainable considering the low birth rate and aging population. She said the conference board's research shows 350,000 immigrants per year is necessary to maintain the country's workforce.
"We do tons of analysis on how things would be better if we had our act together," she said.
Because there aren't enough new labourers to go around — in part due to a seven-year queue for the federal government to process applications — communities have to be strategic in how they reach out to immigrants.
But MacKay added that aboriginals are a growing workforce that should be invited in as well, and more women and people with disabilities should be accommodated.
She said though Cornwall is already doing plenty to improve its workforce, agencies have to ensure immigrants don't feel isolated in the rural areas. Schools are also a major factor in attracting and retaining new residents.
Sharon McRae, LIP project manager for the training board, said the lack of local post-secondary education is what turns many potential residents away.
Because immigrant families are generally very close-knit, she said those who do settle here often move away later to be closer to universities for their children.
She said the Wednesday morning forum was the final step in the development of a region-wide strategy that will be reviewed by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration early next year. The community input will be incorporated into the document, in addition to already-completed surveys and focus groups with immigrants.
Statistics will be compiled along with the strategy, showing how many newcomers settle in the five counties, why they move here and how long they stay.
McRae said their current data shows about 350 immigrants arrive each year, and most are highly educated, buy homes and start businesses in the community.
"It really adds to the economy," she said.
McRae said the strategy will form phase two of the LIP project, and include next steps for business leaders and agencies in the coming months.
The partnership includes T.R. Leger Immigrant Services, social services in all five counties, employment services and the Eastern Ontario Training Board.
"We're not doing anything wrong," she said. "But we could be doing a lot more right."
"What we don't want to happen is for people to go sit in their office and think in isolation," said MacKay. "There has to be a shared strategy."