A simple billboard could help rural communities

Shortly after you take the Aberdeen St. exit in Hamilton, Ontario, you’re hit between the eyes with a University of Windsor billboard that turns heads:  “Windsor strong,” it proclaims, with a huge mug shot of University of Windsor faculty member.


It seems out of place, given Hamilton is home to one of Ontario’s great universities, McMaster. Why would Windsor bother trying to recruit here? Working at the University of Guelph, my antennae are up when I see such things.


But here’s the reality: McMaster is much harder to get into than Windsor. In fact, Windsor has traditionally been one of the easiest Ontario universities to get into.


So, if a university applicant is turned down by McMaster, and looking to go elsewehere, and Windsor is in their face, maybe they’ll give it a try.


Once they get there, maybe they’ll like it enough to stay.


When they graduate, maybe they’ll look for a job there.


As nature takes its course, maybe they’ll meet someone else who likes it there, settle down, raise a family, buy a house, pay taxes, volunteer in the community, and eventually become ambassadors for the city to which they migrated.


All because the Unviersity of Windsor bought a billboard in what used to be their hometown.


That kind of migration from municipality to municipality is very much on the mind of professionals such as planners – including rural planners -- who try to forecast the need for roads, housing, education and other services.


As the Rural Ontario Institute says, Ontario’s demographic structure is such that more people are reaching retirement age, compared to the age group who are potential labour market entrants.


That means regions wishing to grow their workforce must attract immigrants or migrants from other regions in Canada, as well as from abroad. Workforce shortage is a reality agriculture knows all too well.


Not that it’s overly easy for immigrants to move once they’ve arrived in Canada. But it’s much easier than getting here in the first place. So communities are dedicating at least some of their promotional efforts on attracting immigrants or migrants from other regions in Canada.


In the ongoing and sometimes uphill battle to equip decision makers with facts --so that policy and decisions can be based on research rather than emotion -- the institute is working through a new set of fact sheets about rural Ontario. The first of this new series deals with migration in and out of rural communities in the province.


According to the institute, migration into communities is very active. Most non-metro census divisions, which encompass rural communities, are augmenting their populations by attracting what they call in-migrants, compared to the number of out-migrants.


Among those census divisions with a positive net migration, the major contributor was the net in-migration of individuals 45-64 years old.


This age group includes the more-experienced members of the workforce, plus early retirees.


That’s good for the short term, if your community needs investment and stability.  


But for the longer term, there’s a problem. Among the non-metro (rural) census divisions with people moving out, the loss of young adults 18-24 years old was the major contributor.


The biggest problems are in the north. There, across all age groups, net migration contributed to a population loss of 0.5 per cent or more per year in the census districts of  Sudbury, Cochrane, Rainy River and Timiskaming. Closer to major agricultural regions, Huron also took a big hit.


But it’s not all bad news. At the other end of the spectrum, net migration across all age groups represented a population growth of 0.5 per cent or more per year in the census district of Oxford, as well as Haliburton, Northumberland, Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes.


Many rural communities are doing something to attract investment. But what about attracting new residents, too? The University of Windsor model could be a good one to follow.

Publish date: 
Thursday, December 6, 2018

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