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Amherst’s economic growth plan makes sense

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

In Amherst’s new economic growth plan the top priority will be to drive growth first through new population attraction, as opposed to new business attraction. This makes good sense given the town’s current human resources situation.

As Rebecca Taylor, Amherst’s business development officer put’s it “We can’t recruit businesses to our town until we’re sure we have enough people to be able to staff them, and our labour pool is too small.”

It’s clear that the Town of Amherst views economic development as a key priority. It recently conducted a community economic analysis to understand the current state of the local economy and how well the workforce is meeting the needs of current and future employers.

The 2019 Community Economic Analysis and Dashboard can be found on the town’s website under the "Business" tab and at this link: https://tinyurl.com/2019AmherstEconomicAnalysis

The town’s economic development staff are currently working in partnership with Cumberland County and the Cumberland Business Connector staff to create a Community Economic Development Strategy that will replace the 2014 strategy. This document will be an action plan that will include strategies to attract and retain population, support businesses, and enhance quality of life.

The current employment data for the town does present a paradox that highlights the challenge as to the make-up of the local labour pool available. In August of this year there were 199 people unemployed in Amherst, while a survey of industrial park employers coincidentally identified that there were 200 jobs going unfilled.

In my recent interview with Jamie Surrette, CEO of Surrette Batteries of Springhill, he identified that attracting and retaining qualified talent was a challenge for his “green technology” firm. He described the “qualified labour pool” in our county as approaching full employment levels, despite our overall unemployment rate being above average.

This is an issue the town anticipates will become more pressing as time goes on. Without corrective actions, if birth rates and average life spans remains the same, there will be around 800 fewer working-age residents in 2025 than there were in 2016.

To rectify this deficit of better qualified workers the town’s economic development staff have proactively reached out to employers in Ontario facing impending plant closures to arrange potential relocation; marketing Amherst to remote workers through multiple media channels. Also, the staff are engaged in connecting employers to potential job-ready employees registered with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia in Halifax. This is an excellent initiative given the generally positive education and career profiles of immigrants to Canada.

Taylor said the town also needs to show how rewarding it would be for people to settle here, with its top-notch amenities and services. She emphasised the need to maintain a vibrant downtown with a full slate of activities and events that will draw people to the community. And under her leadership good progress has already been made in supporting a growing number of quality public events in the town and putting a fresh face on the townscape. All with the aim of ensuring the first impressions gained by potential new residents are inviting and first-class.

As for leveraging local human resources she referenced our excellent educational institutions such as the local public-school system and the local Nova Scotia Community College campuses, and their role in encouraging our youth to consider Amherst as their lifelong home once they complete their education.

When the time comes to turn on the charm to attract new business firms, Jamie Surrette sees our key attributes as being the “affordability index" including the cost of living and running a business, benefitting both employees and employers, and the "lifestyle gains" of living in Cumberland County. As I enjoy proclaiming “I’m fortunate to now live where others take their vacations!”

Less than a year from now we will be in the middle of electoral campaigns for mayoral and council seats in the town and county. In the previous round candidates focussed on economic growth as the top priority. While there is still much work to be done good progress has been made in moving the yardsticks.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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