There is a place in the Miramichi area known as Taintville. Someone from the area told me it got its name because it’aint Newcastle and it’aint Chatham (anyone knowing the real story can send me a note). It seems to me that ‘Taintville’ stands as a good metaphor for communities that have lost or are losing their economic reason to exist.
If you aint’ Newcastle and you ain’t Chatham what are you?
In my opinion every village, town, city and urban centre needs an economic rationale for its existence. Originally, every place was settled for an economic reason. Farmers, fishers and forest industry workers needed a central place to conduct commerce and access services. Urban centres because centres for public services – education, health care, etc. For those with growing populations or the ability to attract population from outlying areas, urban centres became places where entrepreneurs set up manufacturing activity. If the community was centrally located in a wider geographic area, they became higher order centres for commerce and services.
Nowadays we have the potential for many Taintvilles across Atlantic Canada and the country as a whole. These are communities for which the drivers of the economy over 10,20,30, 40 years or more have shifted significantly and they are not finding their role circa 2017 and beyond.
They used to be able to rely on a steady stream of young people entering the workforce. For decades there was a surplus of young people – and many of them left to find work. Now there are fewer and many of those that come out of the education system do not want the jobs on offer so they leave for greener pastures. Partly this misalignment in the labour market has been manufactured by public policy. I recently looked at the available jobs in a small urban centre and only 8% of the jobs on offer required university and 20% a college diploma. The other 72% required neither. Yet we highly encourage our young people to pursue university or college and then are shocked, shocked, when they leave the community or region after graduation.
I’m not suggesting we discourage young people from pursuing post-secondary education – far from it – but the people that used to work the 72% of jobs – second income earners, students, newcomers, etc. are not as plentiful as they once were. If the labour market cannot supply needs across the spectrum – all jobs that absolutely don’t have to be in the community are at risk of disappearing – moving to communities where there is available workers – communities in Canada or around the world.
Every community from Edmundston to Shippigan to Sackville and St. Stephen in New Brunswick needs to think about its distinct economic role and pursue policies, infrastructure and other efforts to support that distinct role. Are you a bedroom community that provides workers to larger urban centres? Are you a regional services centre? Do you have existing export-based industries that are losing their underlying reason to be in your community? Have you relied on local entrepreneurs to drive economic growth? If so, where is the next generation coming from?
Are there one or two key industries that drive your economy – agriculture, fishing, tourism, IT, education? Will they continue to do so into the future or are they slipping away?
And if you are inclined to believe that becoming a retirement community is your distinct economic role, I urge you to reconsider. Among Ontario’s 44 large, medium and small urban centres guess which one has the lowest median income. Elliot Lake.
Lots of people are retiring and that number is set to grow significantly. Communities that are great places to retire and offer services and support to people for the 20 and now even 30 or more years after retirement – will benefit. But there are many reasons why that can’t be the primary economic role.
If your community is starting to look like Taintville, it’s time roll up your sleeves and get to work.