The consultant working on the County’s economic development strategy said the community is telling them there is too much talk about a lack of worker housing, but not enough action.

Tonya Kraan of Bridgenorth-based Stexer Harrop Consulting Group (SHCG) told council at its Jan. 25 meeting they want specific performance benchmarks in their final report, expected in the spring.

Kraan added, “while the County has had tremendous success developing and marketing tourism, the challenging realities of today’s economy call for new directions, ideas and approaches to enhance economic growth, attract investment and ensure that opportunity continues to be a significant part of the County’s quality of life.”

Their work will create a vision for economic development and set priorities and a five-year action plan.

To date, the consultant said they had looked into employment via a public and business survey, as well as stakeholder interviews. They are in the midst of community consultations and hope to come back to council Feb. 22. They would like to deliver their final economic development strategy report in April.

Transport, daycare, health workers needed

Some of their findings so far are that Haliburton County residents make below the average median income when compared to the District of Muskoka, City of Kawartha Lakes, Prince Edward County, Peterborough County and Hastings County. Median employment income here is $38,000 and household income $73,500, last among the six regions.

They’ve used provincial statistics to say there are 2,039 registered businesses in the County. Of those, 450 have one to four employees; 144 have five to nine employees; 73 have 10-19; 43 have 20-49; 14 have 50-99 and only six have 100-plus. A full 1,309 had an unknown number of workers.

The biggest wage earners were those working for utilities, bringing in an average wage of $78,134. At the other end of the spectrum, those in accommodation and food services were at $14,138.

Construction wages, health care, and social assistance reflected average wages when compared to tourism, necessitating the need for year-round wages, and good paying jobs, they said.

Many business owners spoke to the staffing crisis, with one saying “it’s not a challenge; it’s not possible. The labour force is just not here and nobody can relocate here because of housing shortages.”

Survey respondents told the consultants the number one priority was housing, including the need for apartments.

“So, what’s happening is, there’s a recent grad and there’s a job posting in Haliburton County and Peterborough County, and they go on their interviews, love the job in Haliburton County, ‘but I can’t find an apartment to live in. Guess what? I can find an apartment in Peterborough.’ That’s what’s happening,” Kraan said.

Other things mentioned were the need for things for families to do.

Families want a swimming pool

“Young families want activities for young families. Things like a swimming pool, Kraan said. “I know that’s a hot topic for any municipality but not every young family wants their children to play hockey. But every young family does want their children to learn how to swim and, right now, they have to drive an hour, or an hour-and-half, to find a pool to teach their children how to swim.”

Businesses told her there are too many hurdles and red tape in local government, with a desire for upper and lower-tiers to work better together. Some spoke of the need for progress and innovation, bridging the divide between those doing well and those struggling, as well as retaining youth.

One positive highlight was 28 businesses indicating they want to build and expand. Kraan said they just want “a bit of help” from economic development and planning departments. Only one to two indicated they wanted to close or downsize, while there is a lot of succession planning underway.

Other challenges include transportation, a lack of daycare, and the need for more healthcare workers.

Coun. Jennifer Dailloux commented, “I’m not sure how many more ways we can hear the need for housing. We really are hearing that from every angle and so it’s great to hear that we have our very own study confirming the dire need for housing.”

She added her takeaway from the recent ROMA conference is that everyone is struggling but, “there’s a lot of innovation out there.” She said some information is on township websites and County councillors and Kraan took contact details for others.

“My hope is that somehow we can attach into this final report some of those doors into the innovation that other counties and townships are looking for because they are there. I think we’ve got to start really putting them into our stride and learning from them.”

Coun. Walt McKechnie repeated a longstanding call for Sir Sandford Fleming College to add trades classes to its Haliburton campus. He said he didn’t understand when, “so many families here have a family tradition of doing construction and trades, why they’re not exploring that more for us.”