Perth South seeks residential development to fight worker shortage “perfect storm” – By Dan Rankin

While construction numbers in Perth South may be up for 2015, the municipality hasn’t seen the type of construction it needs if it hopes to make a dent in the growing number of job vacancies in the region.
“It’s been very busy around here, which is a good thing,” said Perth South Chief Building Official Martin Feeney, presenting 2015 construction numbers through June 30 to Perth South Council Tuesday morning.
The total building estimate value for the year is $4,229,800, with almost $41,000 collected so far in permit fees. “These numbers are a little bit higher than last year and I expect this trend to continue,” he said. “We have seen several larger buildings coming along and I’m looking forward to working with the architects and engineers on these projects.”
According to Feeney’s July 14 report, five new agricultural buildings have been put up in the Downie Ward, and a total of four residential alterations or additions have taken place across Blanshard and Downie wards.
In the Economic Development Committee meeting that followed Feeney’s presentation however, there was talk of how to increase construction numbers on the residential side of things. “We just don’t have people,” said Perth County Economic Development Coordinator Kristin Sainsbury, stating that the region’s unemployment rate is around 4 percent. “The average age of the trucking industry is 55. So, on top of the low unemployment rate, we have a lot of retirements coming down the pipe, and we also have more people that leave our region than we have moving in.”
Sainsbury called it a “perfect storm” for employers, and said some companies have told her they “can’t fill the jobs to keep providing the services they have, let alone to grow their companies the way they hope to grow them.”
According to a survey they conducted of 150 employers, “We’re going to have a need in the next 18 months to fill 3,000 jobs,” she said. “And that’s just the employers that responded.”
The biggest issue for the municipality in addressing those concerns, and one that doesn’t have an easy solution, is the lack of affordable housing in Perth South. The committee discussed how tough it can be to find accommodations for families made up of one or even two income earners if they make less than $60,000.
“St. Marys and Stratford aren’t the cheapest place to live, but I’m not sure you can fix that,” said Coun. Sam Courriveau. “I don’t know what the answer is. It’s up to the market to fix.”
Perth South Mayor Bob Wilhelm also stressed the need for the market to drive the change. “Employers need to be innovative, and [Regional] Rideshare is an excellent idea,” he said. “Employers have to go the extra mile. You have to be able to assist people in finding work and providing a mode of transportation to get to and from it.”
According to Deputy Mayor Jim Aitcheson, ‘going the extra mile’ isn’t something many employers have been doing lately. “I realize employers are faced with a difficult situation, but they’re the people who want to employ people with less than the minimum wage in order to stay competitive,” he said. “It’s not all just our responsibility. People are starting some factory jobs at $14.65. How can we develop anything when that’s the wage that’s being paid?”
As has often been the case for the past 20 years or so, this conversation also got the Economic Development Committee talking about the planned Rannoch Subdivision 31T-89003, which received draft plan approval in 1992. According to Perth County director of planning Allan Rothwell, of the six main designated settlement areas within Perth South (Sebringville, Rannoch, Kirkton, Woodham, St. Pauls and Avonton) this plot of 11.3 acres near the intersection of Perth Road 163 and Perth Road 139 in Rannoch is the only planned subdivision in the municipality that has not moved forward with development.
The former owners of the land received draft plan approval to develop a subdivision in that area, however the subject property is now being used by the current owners of the land as part of a large agricultural operation. Tuesday, the committee considered whether it should recommend that council reallocate the settlement area to land where immediate development might take place.
Aitcheson said that under the current land owners, he believes development of the land in Rannoch is “never going to happen.”
The committee passed a motion that CAO Tim Ivanyshyn called a “two-stage process,” recommending first that Mayor Wilhelm approach the land owners to gauge their interest in having the settlement area designation removed from their property. Ivanyshyn would then approach the Perth County planning department about designating another area in Perth South for residential development.
Also of note:
- The recent fundraiser held by the St. Pauls Athletic Association raised about $2,500, enough to cover a new defibrillator machine and outdoor case. Committee chair Mark McKay said the case will be ready for next spring, but in the meantime the machine – acquired last week – has already been brought to a number of soccer games at the St. Pauls facilities. The defibrillator will be accessible from the booth near the baseball diamonds once soccer wraps up at the end of July.
- Perth County and its municipalities were awarded $15,000 as part of the provincial Age-Friendly Communities Grant. Perth South will have access to $1,250 worth of in-kind services as part of the grant with which it will be able to “undertake strategic planning with a focus on seniors… and lead to the development of local aging plans.” Jim Aitcheson was named chair of the Age-Friendly Communities steering committee.
- New community emergency management coordinator Dave Colvin, who took over his duties on June 1, gave a presentation to council discussing his goals for the year ahead. Keeping people updated on emergencies with “almost immediate information” through his online channels, educating the public, and agricultural preparedness are all high on his agenda. “We look forward to working with you in education and training,” said Mayor Wilhelm. “However hopefully not in the emergency side of it.”