Saturday, January 5, 2008

Charts and Graphs Won't Attract Jobs

In my last posting I commented on the area’s employment outlook with particular emphasis on Collingwood as it is the regional economic hub of the Georgian Triangle. 2007 was yet another year of heartbreak with not one but two local manufacturers closing their doors eliminating in the process approximately 500 jobs. Having come from a manufacturing background, one with one of the last year’s casualties Goodyear, I consider myself reasonably qualified with respect to my beliefs regarding the future of industrial/manufacturing jobs in Collingwood.
Two or three years ago, my personal prediction was that Collingwood would loose several of its larger industrial employers in a 3 to 5 year time span and unfortunately this has in fact unfolded. This is not a situation unique to Collingwood and area. A recent article in McLeans magazine suggested that as many as 300,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Canada in recent years stemming from a variety of factors including cheap labour in countries such as Mexico and China, the ongoing restructuring by the North American auto manufacturers and more recently, the meteoric rise of the Canadian dollar. Whatever the reason, higher paid industrial/manufacturing jobs are disappearing yet Canada’s economy as a whole is performing very well and unemployment figures are at near record lows. Why? Because manufacturing jobs are very quickly being replaced by positions in other sectors such as resources (oil and gas), construction, technology and knowledge based industries.
As with any business, a strategy for growth must be based on the fundamental principle of going after business based on where the opportunities exist. For example, I am not going to expand my real estate practice by target marketing to an area(s) where properties are not being listed and sold. Instead, an assessment of the local real estate market will highlight where the opportunities for sales are. Following that, a strategy needs to be developed to effectively go after that business. Pursuing job creation initiatives is no different. First, identify what the strong growth industries today are. Secondly, determine what type of employment opportunities can “realistically” be attracted to Collingwood given our geographic location and other amenities attractive to those businesses such as taxes, utility costs, the available human resources, housing etc. Lastly, you develop a strategy to aggressively pursue the job creation opportunities before you that present the best chance of success. I am not for an instance suggesting that this is easy. It requires research followed by a well thought out aggressive campaign that will attract new business to the area for which the area is best suited to support.
Frankly, I question if Collingwood has such a defined strategy. Since the closure of the shipyards in 1986, the municipality has been grossly ineffective in attracting any significant new employment to backfill the jobs being lost in the manufacturing sector. What’s even more disconcerting are the apparent beliefs coming from the Town’s Economic Development department. In reviewing the Town’s Economic Development website, I note the following quotes:
- “Existing businesses will account for as much as 90% of economic growth in a community.”
- “70% of growth will come from within the industrial sector.”
Both of these statements would appear to be grossly inaccurate given the number of industrial jobs lost in recent years by the closures of “existing businesses” that are not expanding, but leaving. Further, in visiting the Town’s Economic Development website, even a cursory glance yields access to a multitude of studies and analysis’ quoting all matter of facts and figures. While worthwhile in its content, this proliferation of research has yet to and will not on its own, effectively deliver meaningful job creation opportunities to Collingwood. The phrase “paralysis by analysis” comes to mind. Another quote from the website is as follows:

"The Town must move quickly to replenish the inventory of employment lands within the community in order to help re-balance residential to non-residential development."

Can we possibly embark on a plan to acquire and develop additional employment land when the needs of potential new employers have not be accurately identified? A "build it and they will come" attitude alone will not bring employment expansion to Collingwood and area without first determining what is required to satisfy the needs of potential businesses coming here.
During the three years remaining for the current Council, I expect we will unfortunately see yet another plant closure, or two. As a real estate practitioner, I am no different than any other local business, retail, service or otherwise. My livelihood and yours, depends on a strong local economy and that is one of the fundamental roles of government, municipal or otherwise. With Canada’s current economy performing so well in a variety of sectors, it’s time for Collingwood to take a proactive position with respect to creating some meaningful employment opportunities before the next recession arrives. It's going to take more than a website full of charts and graphs to draw business to the area and the time to act is now!

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Rick relocated to Collingwood from Toronto in 1985 through a transfer with Goodyear Canada. In 1987 Rick was recruited by a major client of Goodyear’s, managing their Canadian business based in Barrie before moving to Chicago in 1992 as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. Upon returning to Canada in 1996, Rick ran an industrial products manufacturing company in Stratford, Ontario. In 1998 Rick returned to Collingwood with his two children. Rick is a licensed real estate Broker with Royal LePAGE Locations North in Collingwood and holds his MVA designation (Market Value Appraiser-Residential). He is an active volunteer in the community serving several years on the Board of Directors with the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce as Treasurer, 6 years on the Board of Directors for the Southern Georgian Bay Association of REALTORS® of which he is the Past President (2008) and currently serves on a committee with the Ontario Real Estate Association. Rick is a diverse executive manager with extensive experience in strategic planning, manufacturing, finance, human resources and quality assurance management.