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.
Earlier this month, the province announced the St. Thomas Police Service is to receive $786,925 in funding for community-based safety and policing initiatives.
That should be tempered by the fact funding is spread over three years.
A portion of the money will support an initiative to deal with a modern-day reality in the majority of communities across Ontario while the remainder will support a local program that is a throwback to policing from a bygone era.
In the first scenario, the funding will allow for a uniform officer to remain with the Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST) to ensure a public safety presence.
As Chief Chris Herridge observed a year ago in this corner, “Our community is facing increasing social-related issues resulting in a rise in crime and a feeling of being unsafe in our downtown.
“We immediately need a ‘boots on the ground’ professional health team (mental health, medical, addictions, housing, etc.) in our downtown in partnership with the St. Thomas Police Service who will assist when public safety is a concern.
“The police require a team of experts so we can triage these health-related calls and the appropriate assistance/supports can be provided.”
Founded in 2020, the New Blue Party of Ontario is led by Jim Karahalios, the husband of Belinda Karahalios, former PC MPP for Cambridge and now the party’s first MPP.
She was turfed from the PC caucus after voting against Bill 195, the Reopening Ontario Act, which she described as “an unnecessary overreach on our parliamentary democracy.”
New Blue identifies itself as “an anti-establishment centre-right political party.”
The party aims to field candidates in all ridings for the June 2 provincial election.
It has put forward Matt Millar, a life-long Lambeth resident, as its prospective candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
A third-generation fruit farmer who also operates a small tech support company, Millar advises the party is all about less government involvement.
“The reason I got into this is I just want people to have more control over their own lives. I don’t want the government to be overbearing and forcing people to do things they don’t want.”
Wary of having the June provincial election get in the way of his political aspirations later in the year, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston became the first candidate to put forth their name for the municipal vote in October.
On Wednesday (April 6), Preston confirmed his intention to seek re-election as the head of council.
“It’s an election year,” noted Preston in a conversation shortly after announcing his candidacy, “but with a lot of other stuff going on with the provincial election and a federal leadership in one of the major parties.
“And I just thought, before all that gets too crowded, I’m going to let people know so I can go about the job of mayor and continue doing it until we get into campaigning sometime late summer or early September for an October election.”
He admits he has been peppered with the question, ‘Are you running?’
The region’s medical officer of health spent her last day in that capacity on Thursday (March 31) and we caught up with Dr. Joyce Lock in the waning hours of her tenure at Southwestern Public Health.
With just a day to slip by before retiring, she called the countdown “surreal.”
“Retirement is always this vague endpoint many, many miles on the horizon. And to think I am actually there, is astounding.
“We spend so much of our lives working and having our jobs be a major focus in our daily living, so to make the transition to where it will not be, does bring mixed feelings for sure.”
She was an emergency physician for 25 years in the Burlington area before transitioning over to public health and she spent eight years with the health unit.
The last two years completely preoccupied with COVID-19.
The three major parties have now announced their candidates to run in Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial vote.
All three were acclaimed.
In the first week of March, the NDP announced Andy Kroeker as their candidate to contest the riding with the Conservatives’ Rob Flack and the Liberals’ Heather Jackson.
Kroeker has been the executive director of the West Elgin Community Health Centre for the past dozen years.
Working in health care, Kroeker says he has witnessed how underfunding has impacted rural communities in particular.
It’s just one item on a substantial “laundry list” of concerns that need to be addressed.
“Certainly I have my concerns about healthcare,” stresses Kroeker, “social services and affordable housing and education.
“So there is a long laundry list, I guess, of things which are challenging in a post-COVID environment.”
It has been a significant week for housing news in St. Thomas.
A pair of announcements mid-week covered off a broad swath of the residential spectrum.
At Wednesday’s site plan control committee meeting, conditional approval was granted to Fast Forward Ventures of London for their 14-storey, 162-unit apartment building to rise on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
The Timken plant closed in 2013 and was demolished and the site cleared in 2017.
The next day, the province announced $3 million in funding to develop 20 supportive housing units inside Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub now under construction at 16 Queen Street.
Let’s take a closer look at both developments – which Mayor Joe Preston described as “one more step in attacking the city’s housing shortage.”
As is the case with so many things in life, it all becomes a matter of timing. And so, three-and-a-half years after losing to Joe Preston by less than 650 votes in the 2018 St. Thomas municipal vote as she sought a third term as mayor, Heather Jackson asserts the time is right to return to politics.
In this case, she is on the verge of being acclaimed as Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial election.
Her candidacy will become official before the end of the month, and it is not without some controversy (see the following item).
“It’s all about timing,” advised Jackson, “and I think it’s a good opportunity to jump back into politics and see if I can make a difference again.”
Timing, in this case, relates to former MPP Jeff Yurek’s decision to not seek re-election in June and in the process surrender his seat at the end of February.
It all started with a high school geography course so many years ago.
As city manager Wendell Graves reflected back on his years of public service on Feb. 25, his final day at city hall, his attention turned to a particular field trip that would be “the ignition point” for what would become a four-decade career path.
“Don Cann was the teacher and he brought us on an afternoon field trip to city hall and specifically to the planning department. And that was my initial ignition point. I had never been in city hall before.
“My roots are in the city. I graduated eons ago from Locke’s Public School and then Arthur Voaden and the influence those institutions had on my career path has been tremendous.
“I give a shout out to all those kids who sit behind those desks or in front of a screen. There is so much opportunity here in the city for them to grow their careers and that is really important.
“And a fulfilling career as well.”