THUNDER BAY – Business – With one election in the bag and another one looming this fall, the common theme of Government cutbacks to support private industry has never been so hotly debated. In Thunder Bay where the top ten employers consist of Government and one company heavily reliant on Government contracts this might be alarming.
Private industry in Thunder Bay has been dormant for almost a decade and according to the Conference Board of Canada, 2010 was our first year since 2005 in which we were in positive economic territory with a 0.4% increase in GDP. With various levels of Government providing economic stimulus packages to grow the past few years, we hope the seeds have been planted for future prosperity here in Thunder Bay.
Much of the province’s focus has been spent on Digital Media, Information Communication Technology, Life Sciences, and Clean Technology as future industries.
Although it is still early, in Thunder Bay we have a Life Sciences sector from TBRRI and TBRHSC that is set to make Thunder Bay part of the Medical Alley. Even at the Innovation Centre, a group of software and hardware computer engineers have set up shop to initiate inertia in the information communication technology realm in the form of a club called OHM Base.
I believe this is a critical time for Thunder Bay to readjust its private industry priorities and diversify its economy to match that of the rest of the province. Differentiation is never a bad thing, but when we are so reliant on Government funds to run our economy, we need to ensure we are in line with future spending to incubate private industry and not be left behind.
At the Innovation Centre, we generally receive advanced notification of Government programs, many of which are from the Provincial and Federal Government aimed at these industries. Unfortunately mining and forestry are generally not priorities for the rest of the country or province, yet here in Thunder Bay we still embark on the boom bust economies.
I’m not saying these industries should not be a part of the Thunder Bay economy, like every investment portfolio, you need some risky investments that can pay high returns. I just feel that we should not always shoot for the long-shot but focus on the simple easy wins in other industries to diversify our economy to become sustainable, and if we get a long-shot it’s a bonus. The skills future industries are seeking might not fully match what Thunder Bay currently has to offer, but there is hope with new programs from the College and University.
We must encourage immigration, innovation, education, and retention of young professionals to create the next generation of workforce capable of competing in these 21st century industries that will provide prosperity to all.
With many baby boomers set to retire in the near future, it’s important we look towards higher value businesses and services to support this larger generation with fewer employees. In 1981, we had six employed workers to every retiree, by 2021 it is anticipated this number is to shrink to just under three workers to every retiree. In Thunder Bay this ratio might even be lower based on demographics.
We must start to plan now so we can focus our efforts on higher value diversified economies to bring stability to the area, employment for young and future generation workers, and support those who are in or considering retirement. With Government officials planning horizon being election years, we need private industry to lead us in the charge.
The Innovation Centre acts as a pivotal player in growing Northwestern Ontario’s innovation capacity. We offer support to innovative entrepreneurs, businesses, and community projects in the region of Northwestern Ontario. In addition, the Centre seeks out new approaches to improve, enhance and invigorate a commercialization system in our region. By encouraging ongoing cooperation between business, education and government, the Centre is a driving force to improve economic vitality.