North Bay developing strategies to spark immigrant interest.
City economic developer officer Marla Tremblay, who's leading North Bay's immigration attraction strategy, headed to Toronto in late August hoping to spark some interest for newcomers to come North.
The monthly gathering at the Passport to Business Success networking breakfast organized by the provincial Ministry of Economic Development and Trade (MEDT), regularly attracts about 400 to 600 business immigrants looking to set up shop in Ontario.
"We're going to be making the same pitch as we would to any investor to come up north. Clear air, quality of life and opportunities for outdoor experience, lower crime, cost of living ... the same things we use to attract anyone."
The North Bay Newcomers Network is an ongoing campaign to attract foreign investors, entrepreneurs, skilled workers and families to northeastern Ontario.
According to government immigration figures, 49 per cent of Canada's immigrants tend to settle in the Greater Toronto Area. They make up roughly 85 per cent of all immigrants to Ontario. But only a paltry 0.3 per cent of them trickle into Northern Ontario.
For newly arrived business immigrants, they have three years to have a business up and running, and operating consistently and successfully for one year, under the government conditions of retaining their landed status.
Business succession planning will play a role, says Tremblay.
"We work closely with our business community and we know who's looking to get out or who's looking to retire and doesn't have a succession plan. We know the businesses for sale, both listed and unlisted."
Tremblay says they'll present a range of opportunities and identify possible matchmaking partnerships with existing local companies looking to expand.
From that event, she hopes to bring a vanload of business immigrants to the North Bay-Mattawa area this fall for a familiarization tour of the region to visit businesses for sale.
Last November, Ottawa announced it was earmarking $920 million over the next five years to help immigrants ease into Ontario communities by expanding language training and settlement services.
But details of the new Canada-Ontario immigrant agreement have yet to be made public and communicated to groups like the North Bay group.
Tremblay says the immigrant strategy has become a multi-faceted project in preparing visitor packages and developing ethnic diversity campaigns.
Various focus groups of other newly arrived immigrants have helped them identify transitional needs.
Last April, her group came away from a community brainstorming session with good ideas and observations in areas of settlement and employment services, language training, education and developing better ways to help newcomers become more acclimatized to North Bay.
Some comments came forth about the lack of funds for those immigrants interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Tremblay says money is available through various funding agencies but that information doesn't appear to be communicated very well to potential entrepreneurs.
The City is also working closely with MEDT officials, visiting North Bay companies to address their need for skilled labour.
North Bay hopes to encourage business to permanently retain foreign workers by forming a community support network to help take settlement issues off employers' hands.
"I've had several meetings with different companies who've called me regarding settlement issues and they didn't know where to turn," says Tremblay. "Obviously, we're on the right track and there is a need."
By IAN ROSS
Northern Ontario Business