If you’re a newcomer to the community, you will likely be asked, “What brings you to the Sault?” There’s a number of reasons, family, employment, the beauty of the area or a mix of those things.
A more important question being asked lately is , How do we keep you here?”
That’s one question of many, a new group of individuals want to find out.
On Wednesday, a “collaboration cafe” hosted by Susan Hunter, Director of External Relations at Sault College and Kevin Hemsworth, Director of Marketing & Communications at Algoma University along with about 20 other community minded people are determined to find out how the Sault can better attract professionals to the area and keep them here.
“we’re focusing on community attraction, how we can attract and retain talent in the area” said Jody Rebek, one of the participants in the discussion. The group discussed ideas on what makes the Sault attractive for people to move here, but according to feedback one of the strongest suits are the people.
“I hear all the time that yes, it’s the beauty of the area, the four seasons we have, but also I hear that it’s the people that live here that need to be celebrated as well”
“We know the numbers, we know they are coming here or perhaps leaving the Sault, but what we don’t know are the stories behind those numbers” Rebek said.
The three hour discussion involved a collaboration of ideas from the floor, such as closing Queen street to vehicular traffic on a part time or perhaps permanent basis to help grow the downtown area.
One of the participants mentioned that downtown closes at 5pm and there’s no night life in the core of the city. The group believes being creative with what we already have is the first part of building a vibrant city.
But ideas are just that, ideas. “All ideas are good ideas until we have time to flush them out and see what the realities are” Rebek said.
“The people in this room will own their ideas” Susan Hunter told Saultonline.com “they take their ideas and run with them and meet with the appropriate people to make them happen”
For sure, Sault Ste. Marie has its own challenges plus those that face almost any small to medium city, such as youth migration , lack of good paying jobs and local businesses facing stiff competition just minutes south to the U.S. Yet, the population is increasing slightly, according to the latest Census including the working population according to research done by Destiny Sault Ste. Marie in its economic report.
Sault Ste. Marie’s labour force increased from 37,000 people in 2012 to 40,500 people in 2013 representing an increase of 9.2 per cent.
In 2013, the working age population of the Sault Ste. Marie census agglomeration, an area extending around the City of Sault Ste. Marie, was 68,200 persons, down 600 persons from 2012 and down 700 persons from its average over the 13 year period 2001 to 2013. Sault Ste. Marie experienced a period of population growth from 2003 to 2008 when it peaked at 69,900. Since 2008 the population has declined every year.
“What we have to focus on is what we have and not what we don’t have” Rebek said, “the premise of this is to build up the community and celebrate we do have and create new ideas around that”
Rebek said the initiative locally is part of a network of other communities including Toronto, Winnipeg, St. John’s and several others that share information about what other communities are doing.
Another café, on Social Innovation, is scheduled for February 21 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the 180 Projects building on Gore Street. Similar events are planned for March on the topics of Downtown Vibrancy and Arts/Culture.
Hunter says those interested are welcome to take part and contribute. Those interested can visit www.greaterssm.com to read about the forum presentations, Economic Indicator Report, and draft forum report and pledge involvement in future opportunities related to Sault Ste. Marie’s economic development.