With two area employers seeking more than 3,500 workers, at first glance, it would appear to be a rosy picture for job seekers in St. Thomas, Elgin county and neighbouring municipalities.
More so in light of two years of economic fallout related to the pandemic.
But there are other factors at play when you consider employers here and across the province are coping with a labour shortage.
We talked this week with Sean Dyke, CEO of St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation to ascertain the impact this will have on smaller firms already hunting for employees.
How easy will it be to find 2,000 or so employees for the Amazon fulfillment centre north of Talbotville plus 1,500 workers for the Maple Leaf Foods plant in south London, both opening next year?
“I do think they will be able to draw from a wide range of areas in the surrounding region,” suggested Dyke.
“The name Amazon carries a fair amount of weight. I think people will recognize the plant is expected to be there for quite a while and it is always nice to have that confidence that the business is going to be there for a long time.”
To be housed on the property that formerly was home to the Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly plant which closed in 2011, the 622-acre property wasn’t officially put on the market until 2019.
When we talked to Dyke at this time last year, he noted it is one of the best industrial sites in the province.
“As far as access, pricing and layout of the site itself. It’s in a great spot with access to labour. Everything really hits there.”
Except, perhaps, for that abundant pool of labour.
To hold on to their present employees and attempt to attract additional employees, Dyke said, with inflation, employers are having to increase wages.
And with Amazon reportedly offering compensation starting in the $18 per hour range, will that lure prospective workers?
And what impact will that have on employers only paying a minimum wage?
“Amazon with 2,000 people, wages are going to be a big thing with corporate culture and that sort of stuff,” suggested Dyke. “We have local companies now that are having to pay a fair amount more for labour, which is probably a natural shift within inflation.
“Wages tend to go up, but they are not going up at the same pace as inflation.”
At a job fair in St. Thomas earlier this month, over 500 job seekers were in attendance. Dyke added, “people are obviously looking to get back into the workforce or into it for the first time.
“And, I will say we are getting an influx of people from other areas moving to this region now.
“It used to be no, we can’t find anybody. Now, it seems to be more focused on they can’t find specific skilled trades or specific jobs.”
“Not just to St. Thomas, but Elgin county, Middlesex County and London. And people are willing to drive to good jobs.
“I think you’re going to see that with Maple Leaf Foods, opening up at the 401 and Highbury Avenue.”
Which hits on an important consideration. What about job seekers who have not been able to afford a reliable vehicle or families where there is only one vehicle?
The Amazon facility will not be accessible by public transit, proving a barrier to these individuals.
“I had some calls early on from different parties about that. I don’t know where that has gone. As of right now, I don’t believe there is any transit.
“I think transit to there with Amazon at the table trying to figure out how to make it work would make sense.
“That definitely happens in areas where labour shortages are even worse.”
Dyke cited the example of a firm in the Listowel area.
“There is a company there called Listowel Technologies, a Japanese auto parts maker and they actually shuttle people in from the Kitchener-Waterloo area to get to work.
“They pay for that. It wouldn’t be unheard of for companies to do that. Obviously, there is a cost to that but you get the labour force that you need.”
Dyke felt it is fairly obvious more than a minimum wage is needed to attract that number of employees to the fulfillment centre.
With the attendance at the job fair, Dyke advised that shows people are looking to get back into the workforce or get in for the first time.
So, as for answering the call for 3,500-plus workers, Dyke is confident “this area is able to support some of that.
“But when you’re talking to people that piece out there by the 401 is very easily accessible by truck traffic and employees from across the region. I’m happy to see that site grow, even though it is not in the City of St. Thomas. It benefits us in other ways.”
“St. Thomas is just a small chunk when you take the overall area as a whole. If you look at the labour force regionally, there are a million people that are in that labour force and obviously, most of them are working but many people are looking at opportunities to try something different or new or better.”
He pointed to the importance of universal daycare in the province.
“I’m happy that the government is looking at making that a reality. Recognizing there are still limitations on some of that.
“But anything you can do to help people get into the workforce is welcome by everything I do.”
He suggested the discussion locally has shifted somewhat of late.
“It used to be no, we can’t find anybody. Now, it seems to be more focused on they can’t find specific skilled trades or specific jobs.
“So, it sounds like the more general labour roles in the mid-level are being filled. But it’s that entry-level piece and then the really skilled pieces that are harder to fill right now.”
Once the Amazon facility is up and running, will that remaining property serve as a magnet for other businesses to this area?
“Oh definitely,” affirmed Dyke. “There’s a lot of opportunity in the region right now. We’re being overrun with enquiries right now in our office.
“I can say that it is very busy. The challenge right now is we actually don’t have that much land to offer. “But when you’re talking to people that piece out there by the 401 is very easily accessible by truck traffic and employees from across the region.
“I’m happy to see that site grow, even though it is not in the City of St. Thomas. It benefits us in other ways.
“You will see suppliers to Maple Leaf Foods, you will see suppliers to Amazon.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity here.”
AN UP AND DOWN POLICE REPORT
The good news is in the first quarter of this year, property crime-related incidents have decreased.
That has to be tempered by increases in residential and commercial break and enters.
The stats are contained in a property crime analysis covering January through March of this year, prepared by the St. Thomas Police Service.
It shows property crime-related incidents decreased from 116 in the same period last year to 100 this year, a drop of 13.8 percent.
Breaking those numbers down further, vehicle entries declined from 74 in the first quarter last year to 32 this year (a 56.76 per cent drop); residential break and enters are up from 22 to 46 this year (109.1 per cent), and commercial break and enters increased slightly to 22 from 20 (10 per cent) a year ago.
The greatest decrease in vehicle entries is police Zone C, which covers the area west of First Avenue and south of Talbot Street.
Your vehicle is most likely to get broken into on a Tuesday or Saturday according to the report, although it is fairly evenly spread out during the week. Friday seems a pretty safe day for your vehicle.
As one would expect, 84 per cent of vehicle break-ins occur overnight.
And the most popular method of entering the vehicle is you invited the perpetrators by leaving it unlocked. Fifty per cent of the occurrences were due to insecure vehicles.
Looking at residential B&E, the greatest increase took place in Zone C, with no occurrences in Zone B which encompasses the industrial area north of Talbot Street and east of First Avenue.
For whatever reason, your home is most likely to be broken into on a Monday or Thursday.
And don’t be quite as concerned on a Friday, criminals seem to be preoccupied that day with only a pair of incidents reported.
Again, as is to be expected, two-thirds of residential B&E took place overnight and almost half of the cases were gained through insecure points of entry.
Almost half of the commercial break and enters were in Zone C (south of Talbot and west of First Avenue) with occurrences spread out during the week and predominantly happening overnight.
As opposed to residential B&E, only 27 per cent were due to insecure points of entry.
The report concludes nearly half of the reported property crimes were due to insecure access points.
It goes on to note “if more effort was put into securing these access points, property crime could be reduced by 44 per cent.
And a nightly routine is suggested:
- lock your vehicle and bring valuables inside
- put the bike away
- lock the shed/garage
- lock the residence door
- leave motion sensor lights on
Because crime prevention is everybody’s business.
ENSURING POVERTY IS AN ELECTION ISSUE LOCALLY
With an estimated 20 per cent of children in St. Thomas and Elgin living in low-income households, the June provincial election is an opportunity to vote to improve lives in the community.
You can find out where Heather Jackson, Andy Kroeker and Rob Flack stand on food and income security and housing stability at an all-candidate forum, Tuesday, May 3.
“the government statistics for Elgin and St. Thomas prove that we need a candidate who will support initiatives for long-term sustainable change to end poverty in our communities.”
It is hosted by the Elgin St. Thomas Coalition to End Poverty which advises that 20 per cent of the children in the region are living in low-income households.
The coalition also notes the vacancy rate for affordable apartments in St. Thomas for low-income families is virtually zero.
Another disturbing fact is that 14 per cent of renter households pay at least 50 per cent of their income on housing, causing severe affordability issues.
Coalition co-chair Brian Flint explains they are a collaborative group of local organizations, decision-makers and community members “dedicated to fulfilling our vision, ‘No one in Elgin St. Thomas lives in poverty.’”
The coalition advises “the government statistics for Elgin and St. Thomas prove that we need a candidate who will support initiatives for long-term sustainable change to end poverty in our communities.”
The all-candidate forum runs from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m. at the St. Thomas Public Library. Moderated by the myFM news team featuring Kennedy Freeman and myself, the forum will include a Q&A segment from the audience.
Find out more about the coalition at https://povertycoalition.ca/
FOR THE CALENDAR
In addition to the above forum, the St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce will hold a provincial all candidate debate on May 18 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the CASO station.
Tickets are $15 and include appetizers. You can order tickets and submit questions to email@example.com or by calling 519-631-1981, ext. 526.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.