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City looks to immigration in face of trades shortage: North Bay's economy has kept the city's population relatively steady, but administrators see immigration as one more development tool.

A looming shortage of skilled tradespeople and professionals has the City of North Bay on the lookout for new blood from overseas.

North Bay's diversified economy has kept its population relatively stable compared to other Northern centres, but the city sees attracting and retaining immigrants as a new tool for economic growth.

The newly-formed North Bay Newcomers Network is still in the early stages of drawing up an attraction strategy, but they intend to be ready to tap into millions in immigration settlement funding once the details of a new Canada-Ontario agreement are ironed out.

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.

Marla Tremblay, a City of North Bay economic development officer heading up the strategy, says it's useless to begin targeting and recruiting people from specific countries until they determine the city's ethnic demographics and take an assessment of what support services are needed.

"Because the population is declining gradually and aging, it will also assist us in fighting youth migration and we'll be able to fill some of the gaps identified in the skilled labour pool," says Tremblay. "The hope in the long term is to have a centre established where we'll have settlement service workers."

Many labour market studies have identified shortages in the skilled trades over the next five to 10 years and some Canadian provinces are filling those needs with temporary and permanent immigrant labour.

The Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation released a study in December identifying human resource gaps in the area's industries. But the city wants a more focused study in gathering research on what might be attractive to North Bay for certain cultural and ethnic groups.

"When the (government) programs do come to light, we'll have all the information we need to apply for programming," says Tremblay.

According to government immigration figures, 49 per cent of Canada's immigrants settle in the Greater Toronto Area, representing roughly 85 per cent of all immigrants to Ontario. But only 0.3 per cent of those newcomers trickle into Northern Ontario.

The city wants to promote itself as a safe place to raise a family with a low cost of living, a clean environment and spacious surroundings.

"The things that appeal to newcomers are the same things that keep us here," says Tremblay.

But Tremblay says North Bay doesn't have the established support groups and services for new arrivals to make the region more attractive. Focus groups of newly arrived immigrants will help them identify those transitional needs.

Plans are in the works by The Mayor's Office of Economic Development to host an immigration symposium and employers' forum on April 8.

Tremblay says it's critical to have buy-in from the business sector. Some area companies already employ temporary foreign workers and the city wants to encourage those businesses to permanently hire them by setting up a community support network to take settlement issues off their hands.

Also under consideration is a possible familiarization tour of the region for foreign investors, entrepreneurs and labourers.

One issue addressed last year by the 15-member immigration group was the lack of a full-time English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) immersion course.

Within weeks, they began discussions with the Near North School Board, which began implementing ESL daytime beginner training for newcomers. It now serves 15 fulltime students.

www.city.north-bay.on.ca

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: NORTH BAY
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:576
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