Looming labour shortages due to mass migration to and around cities have made rural development much more difficult than it used to be, according to a retired statistician.
While rural populations in Manitoba overall are still growing by .6 per cent, since 1996, places farther away from Brandon, Winnipeg and Winkler are not faring as well.
“Really rural places have been declining for quite some time,” Ray Bollman told the group of people gathered to hear him speak about Manitoba’s current rural demography trends on Nov, 4.
“Back in 1971, 200 people joined the labour force every time 100 people left the labour force. Rural development was very easy.”
These numbers have steadily decreased over the last 40 years so that today 122 people in non-metro Manitoba enter the workforce for every 100 that leave. Statistics Canada analysts expect these figures to plunge below 100. That means there will be fewer 19-year-olds than there are 64-year-olds, which points to pending labour shortages.
Some rural communities are already experiencing shortages. As of 2012, Lac du Bonnet had 50 people entering the labour market for every 100 who left while Gimli had 77 and Dauphin 89.
Some communities are attracting immigrants. Outside of Winnipeg, in 2012 to 2013, .31 per cent of the population were immigrants who had arrived in the previous year. The Winkler, Morden and Altona area is the most successful region, outside of Winnipeg, at attracting immigrants. Those communities have nearly one immigrant for every 100 residents.
Bollman compares this to playing bridge, which he played as a young boy.
“The rule was you should always go down a third of the time. If you don’t lose your bid a third of the time you’re not bidding high enough. Winkler is winning by bidding high, attracting lots of immigrants. Yes they’re losing some, but they’re more successful at attracting immigrants.”
“Manitoba as a whole loses more people to the rest of Canada than it gains on net migration,” he said.
Some communities have responded to the development challenge by marketing themselves as retirement communities. Bollman referenced Elliot Lake in Ontario as an example. The only problem with this tactic, he said, is that most retirees will leave after 10 or 15 years so they can live near a health-care facility.
“Then you’ve got to recruit 10 per cent every year because 10 per cent are leaving every year. It’s a hard role to hold, but it’s still maybe the best bet for some of these places.”
Whether courting seniors or new immigrants, Bollman’s advice to these communities is to get creative. “If any of these communities want to stabilize their workforce they have to find something new to export. A new good or a new service.”
He cited as an example, the flax bread that Angusville once produced. “Or you could try producing alfalfa pellets. Or something different like retirement homes around Riding Mountain. Or bring back the Pembina Ski Hill and sell ski hill services.”
“To quote Red Green,” he said. “‘We are all in this together. I’m pullin’ for ya.’”