The Average University graduate in Ontario will take 14 years to pay off the entirety of their student debts, and judging by the current job market available to recent graduates in Niagara, this figure might be on the low side.
This was just one of the eye-opening stats cited by Jessica Potts during her opening remarks at the U35 Niagara event held on November 18th.
The one day summit held at the Scotiabank Convention Center focused on strategies for attracting and retaining young professionals “The Emerging Generation” in the region. The day was attended by 150 delegates, spanning all walks of the Niagara economy from local government and political figures to business owners, and of course young professionals themselves.
The day’s proceedings were light on structure and rules, but heavy on ideas and conversation. A common theme of the day surrounded changing the perceptions of Niagara as a brand and repositioning its economic identity away from the disappearing industrial manufacturing jobs that were once its primary driver and towards a more dynamic and diversified future.
Aside from heavy manufacturing, Niagara’s other remaining economic identity is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, tourism. With the falls only receding an average of one meter per year, it’s fair to say that this industry is not disappearing any time soon.
Of course, there are certainly worse geo-economic climates then being located just over an hour from Canada’s largest population base, along a major international border crossing, and anchored by a natural wonder. However, diversifying Niagara’s economy, and providing opportunities for young professionals to stay and build careers in their field of choice, can happen in tandem with our identity as a tourist mecca and not in spite of it.
For example, that new upscale boutique hotel down the road will need renovations completed and a website created prior to opening, resulting in contract work for skilled tradespeople and a design firm. Upon opening, an event planner and IT specialist could also find employment. If this sounds like an overly optimistic appraisal of this hypothetical situation, that is fair, but we have to start somewhere and using our established industries as a springboard for emerging ones is a an obvious place to start.
The wine industry in Niagara provides an excellent example of exactly this. Niagara has long been home to wineries, but its explosion as a full-fledged wine tourism destination on an international level is a fairly recent development. This emergence has in no small part been thanks to the growth of complimentary experiences, which also contributes to building the broader agricultural, service, creative, and knowledge industries in the region.
The benefits of building this culinary experiential identity can be seen in a number of the successful new initiatives here at Niagara Parks. Our local food focus at our Elements on the Falls, Queenston Heights, and Queen Victoria Place Restaurants, ensures that a minimum 25% of the food and beverages served are locally produced. As well, our culinary apprentice program engages young, up and coming culinary industry professionals. Both items ensure Niagara Parks is at the forefront of showcasing the flavours and culinary talents of Niagara.
These types of initiatives are obviously just a drop in the bucket in addressing the challenges facing the region as a whole, but I left the U35 conference with a great sense of optimism about the future of the Niagara region and its potential to attract and retain the emerging generation moving forward. As well as proud of Niagara Parks’ efforts towards this.
Certainly, achieving this goal will not happen overnight, but the seeds of a movement have been planted. If the positive energy that permeated the room is any indicator, the shift towards a Niagara that not only attracts young people from outside the region, but also provides viable opportunities for them to plant roots, grow their careers, and contribute to the economic future of the region is well underway!
Special thanks to event organizers Brock University, Niagara College, Next Niagara, Innovate Niagara
and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.