Thunder Bay continues to shift directions to a knowledge-based economy – NSWPB

NSWPB Paul Knafelc PresentationTHUNDER BAY – Onward and upward. On December 22, 2010, Frank Pullia wrote a piece on “The Emerging Thunder Bay Region”. Pullia penned, “In recent years, Thunder Bay has emerged as a major player in many fields such as bio-medicine, technology, green energies, tourism, education, mining, engineering, the arts (particularly film), and Aboriginal relations. Thunder Bay and region has always enjoyed a rich and diverse cultural scene and the Internet allows us to do business with anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s an exciting time of change for this area”.

“For many people who have left Thunder Bay, and ended up in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver or Ottawa, or anywhere else in the world, they start finding that the community they thought, as teenagers was ‘boring’, is actually an amazing place with lots of things to do,” continued Pullia. “Coming back to the region, often allow these professionals to seize opportunities that otherwise would never happen especially in some of the larger markets where many of the people who have returned to Thunder Bay once lived”.

Pullia is now the Co-Chair of Business for the North Superior Workforce Planning Board (NSWPB) which in partnership with the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce commissioned a report entitled “Economic and Labour Market Guidance: Thunder Bay CMA,” highlighting several positive economic trends that appear to be emerging. This report backs up the concept that the local economy is in transition and was sufficiently diversified to have been able to withstand the near collapse of the forestry industry.

Madge Richardson, Executive Director for NSWPB, stated, “I believe this report will help us understand the economy by providing solid numbers and statistics. We’re all talking about the economy and speculating on its recovery. These numbers show us where we are indeed renewing ourselves and where there is work to be done. The Thunder Bay Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) economy is shrinking, with its Gross Domestic Product, population and employment declining over the last decade. Where economic growth is synonymous with economic prosperity, such decline in these metrics suggests that Thunder Bay is fading away, but several pieces of empirical evidence refute this assumption and point to economic renewal”.

The report, prepared for the NSWPB by Paul Knafelc of Community Benchmarks Inc. states, “The first indication of economic renewal is the fact that Thunder Bay’s population base is shifting. On the surface it would appear that Thunder Bay CMA’s (Census Metropolitan Area) population has stagnated at around 122,000 people for the past ten years. An investigation of the CMA’s migration dynamics, however, reveals that while slightly less than a third of the total population (35,692 people) left the Thunder Bay area between 2001 and 2009, an almost equivalent amount (34,908 people) moved into the area. In light of Thunder Bay’s employment decline, the volume of out-migration is not surprising. What is compelling, however, is the volume of people moving into the area over the same time period”.

The report goes on to state, “Thunder Bay’s median employment income reached $30,170 in 2009, $430 higher than Ontario’s median employment income in that year. Since median employment income includes both full-time and part-time workers, Thunder Bay’s higher employment income is more impressive given that a lower percentage of workers are employed full-time in this CMA (75.5 percent) versus the percentage employed full-time in Ontario (80.5 percent)”.

What is interesting is to note that while some in the region seem mired in the economic issues of the past, looking for renewal from a return of the paper mills there is a paradigm shift appearing to happen in the city. “When Thunder Bay’s net migration characteristics are examined, Thunder Bay realized or gained the most people from intra-provincial migration with a net gain of 3,101 over the 2001 to 2009 time period. It is interesting that Thunder Bay attracted more people from Ontario than it loses to Ontario, given Ontario’s greater employment growth”.

Frank Pullia, NSWPB’s Co-Chair of Business, identified, “The report shows that despite the substantial outmigration between 2001 and 2009 [35,692], almost the same number of people [34,908] have migrated into the area. This suggests that Thunder Bay’s population base is renewing itself as such population dynamics are likely driven by the shifting demand for skill”.

“The study clearly shows that Thunder Bay CMA is transitioning in its skill demands. The great news is that since 2008, individual median income has increased to over $30,000 which is slightly above the provincial average. This is a first, and it speaks well of the type of good-paying jobs that require these new skills,” added Pullia.

What does this mean? “Likely for one it means that the economy of Thunder Bay continues to shift directions to a knowledge-based economy, and toward new opportunities in mining.” answers Pullia. “It also means that the growing Aboriginal population is making a positive economic contribution to the local economy with hundreds of Aboriginal students graduating from College and University each year and hundreds more being trained in skilled trades in preparation of emerging opportunities in mining and other sectors of growth in the local and regional economy”.

“While over 50% of urban Aboriginals own their own home, challenges remain in providing opportunities for a smoother transition to urban life for new members coming in from remote communities for medical and educational needs. Stats Canada will be releasing more detailed census information by the spring of 2013 and a better understanding of trends in Aboriginal migration, educational attainment, income levels and workforce participation can be conducted then”.

The report found that with respect to the number of businesses, Thunder Bay’s Real Estate industry and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industry had the most businesses at 612 employees and 608 employees respectively. An examination of employment reveals that the greatest number of people employed in Thunder Bay work within the Educational Services Industry (6,392), followed by the Food Services and Drinking Places industry employing 4,344 people.

Thunder Bay’s Food and Beverage Stores Industry generated the most revenue in 2010, exceeding $412 million. Specialty Trade Contractors ranked second in terms of revenue with more than $354 million.

An examination of industries top 10 ranking for number of businesses, employment and revenue reveals that only two industries appear in the top 10 for all three metrics for Thunder Bay: the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services Industry and the Specialty Trade Contractors Industry.

The news, overall is that a new Thunder Bay area is indeed ’emerging’ and that the paradigm shift of our region’s population and economy is continuing.

“Challenges however remain in addressing the needs of the underemployed (50% of the working population is still making less than $30,000 per year) and those that have not been able to find employment and have fallen through the cracks after having exhausted their unemployment benefits. In fact, a deeper analysis of the study findings indicate that about 5,000 workers are doing odd jobs and reporting some kind of income to Revenue Canada but are off the employment records. Some of these are adult workers who lost their jobs in the forestry sector, and who may be too old to move to other areas of the country for employment or for retraining, and too young to retire,” added Pullia.

“With an experienced aging working population starting to retire in large numbers, decision-makers at all levels but especially the three orders of government cannot rest on their laurels but need to take decisive action to allocate the necessary resources to prepare the workforce for the future. Not to do so would mean a missed opportunity to take Thunder Bay and area to the next level of growth and prosperity”.

Pullia concludes “The North Superior Workforce Planning Board will continue to work diligently with our community partners in education, government, labour and business in addressing Thunder Bay and region’s workforce development current and future needs”.

James Murray
Chief Content Officer

For more information, and to read the full report visit North Superior Workforce Planning Board (NSWPB)