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Sunday, October 2, 2022
Niagara-on-the-Lake an economically ‘unique’ town, consultant says

Niagara-on-the-Lake's population does not need to grow as fast as its economic base thanks to its proximity to major urban centres, an economist says.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the most unique communities that I’ve run into in the three decades that I’ve been doing this kind of work,” Tom McCormack, president of Metro Economics, told town councillors at a recent meeting.

He, along with Lauren Millier, founder and vice-president of MDB Insight, presented the first phase of the town’s economic impact analysis to council.

McCormack found NOTL a unique community due to its aged population, overwhelming reliance on the tourism sector and proximity to major urban centres such as St. Catharines.

In total, there are some 11,575 jobs in NOTL. Of those, 49 per cent, or 5,716, are “economic base” jobs, which means they rely on people who do not live in the community to flourish, McCormack said.

He said this is an unusually high number and most communities' economic base jobs range from 15 to 25 per cent.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is very blessed with economic base jobs,” he said.

The remaining 51 per cent are community jobs that serve NOTL residents specifically, such as grocery stores.

Of the 5,716 economic base jobs, 59 per cent are in the tourism sector.

He said the tourism sector includes people working in accommodation, food, retail, arts, entertainment and recreation.

Agriculture and manufacturing jobs accounted for 17 and 14 per cent, respectively, of the economic base jobs.

McCormack noted agriculture and manufacturing are important for the town's economy but “those industries aren’t creating jobs currently, nor will they in the future like they have in the past.”

That is because technology has made agriculture and manufacturing productivity per person increase, resulting in fewer employment opportunities, he said.

Half the jobs related to agriculture and manufacturing are linked to the wine industry, another arm of the tourism sector in NOTL, McCormack noted.

The remaining jobs are in industries such as logistics and construction.

He said about 8,000 NOTLers are currently employed, meaning there is a 3,500-person discrepancy between the number of jobs available in NOTL and its working population.

But many NOTL residents do not work in town, nor do they want to, he said.

McCormack noted 3,435 people commute out of Niagara-on-the-Lake every day while 7,910 people commute in for work.

This means nearly 70 per cent of all jobs available in NOTL are filled by people who live out of town.

“This disconnect between your residential base and your economic base is quite an unusual situation to find,” he said.

“It’s unique because of where you are. How close you are to all the other communities around you and because of the incredibly attractive setting you have for those who wish to retire in the province of Ontario.”

What stood out for McCormack was that Niagara-on-the-Lake does not need to have its population grow in tandem with its economic power. “Because most of the people who are filling the jobs in your community don’t live there."

He emphasized that the direction of the town’s growth is up to council.

Coun. Norm Arsenault pressed McCormack on whether he believed the high cost of housing and lack of affordable rentals was impeding NOTL’s growth.

McCormack stated he did not think more development was necessary for the town's economic growth, pointing to the proximity of Niagara Falls and St. Catharines as more than sufficient to supply NOTL’s labour needs.

“Because you are in the middle of a very strong growing metropolitan area there are lots of workers in the entire census metropolitan area who move about from one community to another,” he said.

“So, I don’t think you will want for a supply of workers in the future should your tourism industry continue to grow rapidly.”

Confusion arose when Coun. Sandra O’Connor asked McCormack about the impact of migrant workers on the community.

Misinterpreting what she was referring to, McCormack said migrant workers is a negative term to apply to people who do not live in NOTL but work there, not realizing O’Connor meant seasonal workers who come from other countries.

But McCormack’s lack of understanding about migrant workers, which he said were not included in employment numbers, was also addressed by Coun. Erwin Wiens, who is a grape farmer.

Migrant workers “have a huge impact on the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake because they all shop here, they have to eat here and they all live here, they take up housing and they take up heat and hydro,” Wiens said.

McCormack also presented projections for NOTL's future growth. He estimated by 2051 the town would have a population of 29,000, dwellings would increase to 12,600, and jobs to 17,200.