Forward thinking

Wellington County and its local municipalities seem to be well ahead of the curve in recent efforts to paint the area as a long-term destination for immigration.

The topic was explored from several angles by speakers at a joint economic development meeting of north Wellington municipalities held in Drayton on Nov. 1.

Dirk Dekker of Country Bait in Moorefield spoke on immigrants and newcomers from the perspective of a local agribusiness. The business has experienced success both employing immigrant workers and breaking into the international market for sales. Their experience demonstrates that looking beyond borders, both local and national, can be one path to success.

Tom Lusis, who works on Wellington County’s economic development talent attraction initiative, explained that currently, immigrants to north Wellington come mainly from Europe, Asia and the United States. Those immigrants primarily work in manufacturing and agriculture, often helping employers staff difficult-to-fill positions.

Recently-released 2016 census data indicates immigrants make up 9.7% of Mapleton’s population. The most common place of birth for immigrants in Mapleton is Mexico (33.7%), followed by the Netherlands, U.K., U.S. and Syria. About 10% of Mapleton residents are first generation and 14.3% are second generation, indicating immigrants are making a substantial impact on the local culture and workforce. However, those numbers are well below provincial and national averages, as first generation immigrants make up roughly 31% of Ontario’s population and 24% of Canada’s, while 23% of residents are second generation in Ontario and 17.9% in Canada.

Those differences are easily understandable, as it’s obvious many newcomers are going to be more comfortable in cities, especially if their lifestyle was urban in their home country. However, the disparity does show there is room for growth in the flow of immigrants to rural Ontario communities, many of which struggle with declining populations to fill their tax rolls, schools and labour pools.

From that perspective, the efforts of Wellington County and individual municipalities to hang out the welcome sign seem both innovative and enlightened.