In speaking to Sudbury business owners, Paul Lefebvre said, he's heard a common complaint time and again: they can't find workers to fill vacant positions, which is stunting their ability to succeed and grow.
“‘I need to find workers or else I will need to move my business elsewhere,'" the Sudbury MP said they've told him. "'I can't stay in Sudbury if can't find workers to fill those jobs.'”
That's why the success of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program is so important to the city and its northern neighbours, Lefebvre said during a May 17 virtual announcement.
Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Thunder Bay were among 11 communities chosen in 2019 to participate in the five-year recruitment and settlement strategy.
Its goal is to attract new people to these communities to close labour gaps, which are growing due to a decline in Canada's population and a decrease in birth rates.
Since the program's launch, Sudbury has endorsed 39 candidates through the program, which, including family members, means 80 new people will soon be calling Sudbury home, noted Mayor Brian Bigger.
To keep the momentum going, FedNor is providing the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation with $480,746 to hire a business development officer and a technical coordinator to oversee the program.
Their job will be to “help business navigate immigration pathways available to fill employment gaps,” said Lefebvre, who announced the funding alongside his Nickel Belt counterpart, MP Marc Serré.
Labour shortages had been a longstanding issue before the onset of COVID-19, Bigger said, and despite the challenges introduced by the pandemic, many businesses are still scrambling for help.
The immigration pilot is shaping up to be a "key component” of the city's workplace development strategy, he noted.
“Obviously, as we get past COVID-19, we're looking forward to economic recovery,” Bigger said.
“That means we'll be looking for people to work for those employers that have been asking for us to help with them finding a talented, educated workforce that can take us to the next level here in Sudbury.”
The program complements the city's designation as a welcoming city for francophone newcomers and its commitment to inclusion and diversity, he added.
Efforts under the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot have been advanced in other northern communities as well.
Administrators in Thunder Bay hailed the first years of the project an “incredible success” as they endorsed 69 candidates for relocation to the city.