Mining towns like Kirkland Lake are only too familiar with the transient nature of a workforce that drives the local economy through both boom and bust times.
Those commuter workers draw on local services and rent apartments, but the bulk of their paycheques are spent elsewhere, the population count is stuck in neutral, and municipal tax revenues start to stagnate.
While the municipality is always looking to attract more professionals to town, a particular focus is on keeping them after they settle in.
Developing new offerings in housing is always an issue, especially exacerbated by inconsistent provincial property tax assessment which has skewed land values and been a real impediment to new construction.
“One emphasis within the town is that we focus on what we can do, and that is to make the place as liveable as possible,” said Wilf Hass, Kirkland Lake’s economic development officer. “We focus a lot on quality of life issues.”
A big emphasis is improving local services to encourage transient workers to permanently put roots down.
“If a miner is here for two years and his travel allowance runs out, maybe it makes sense to move here and bring the family?”
The idea is to retain workers that rotate in and out of Kirkland Lake and eventually convince entire families to move there by promoting the town as a safe community with good educational, health-care, entertainment and recreational opportunities.
“We can’t retain them on the basis of shopping, but we can give you a good place to live,” said Hass. “This coming year, you’re going to see a lot of effort being put into that.”
Government money has flowed in to redevelop Civic Service Stadium and upgrade the baseball diamonds to host other outdoor activities, and a new $9.6-million municipal pool is being built.
“It’s an expensive and bold undertaking but one that the community feels should be done.”
Changes are also coming to upgrade Hockey Heritage North.
The venue was intended to be a hockey museum, but it has had some success in recent years attracting conferences and other events. Refurbishments will allow it to become a more year-round, multi-use facility for tourism and sport tourism events, socials and concerts.
In the late 1990s, the town took advantage of a provincial tourism “destination attraction” incentive program and used $15 million to build the museum.
But Kirkland Lake’s off-the-beaten-path location didn’t lend itself to attracting thousands of hockey fans to northeastern Ontario, and the cost to maintain and pay off the facility’s debt began to weigh the municipality down.
Now with the arrival of a new Microtel hotel next door, preparations are underway to make better use of the facility to meet the community’s needs.
Hass said the place is ideal for hosting weddings and attracting business-related events in partnership with the hotel by reconfiguring the interior to provide flexible space to host multiple large and small events simultaneously.
The town is also getting serious about wanting to hosting conferences and sport tourism events.
“In the past we wanted to host swim meets, but couldn’t because we didn’t have a place to put people,” said Hass. “That’s really going to change by adding another 80 (hotel) rooms to the mix here.”