Your View: Should The Sault Pay People To Move Here?


By Peter Chow

In the 1960s, Sault Ste Marie offered numerous well-paying industrial jobs at Algoma Steel, the tube mill and St. Mary’s Pulp and Paper, spawning a large and prosperous middle class. The relative isolation of the local economy created a captive market for retail goods and services, as well as a cozy business environment dependent on a few key industries in a company town. Sault Ste Marie had the second highest per capita income in Canada year after year, trailing only Oakville.

That golden age has faded. The steel plant was forced to face greater global competition and labour-saving technological change. The workforce dropped from 9,000 in the 1970’s to under 3,000 today. As the Internet devastated the demand for paper, St. Mary’s Pulp and Paper died. The population dropped from 84,000 in the 1980’s to 66,000 in 2016.

Economic growth remains arrested. The economy has evolved into an enclave of high-paying and more secure knowledge-economy jobs, broader public-sector jobs and a swath of minimum-wage service jobs. The municipal tax base is stretched thin to provide spending and service levels that evolved when there was a lucrative industrial tax base; property taxes have been rising for years. After decades of youth out-migration, the population is aging faster than the Canadian average. The median age has risen to 47 yr. old, compared with the provincial median of 41 – half the city is 47 or older.

This has increasingly made economic polarization, mental-health and addiction problems and a decaying social fabric marked by crime, drugs and an increased use of shelters and food banks a fact of life.

What has happened mirrors the U.S. Rust Belt, where economic trauma has fuelled populism and negative attitudes.

In the U.S., times are tough for small American cities trying to lure an educated workforce. One-quarter of the graduates of elite Ivy League universities move to New York, Washington or San Francisco; other major centres snap up many of the remainder. So increasingly, less popular cities and states are turning to financial incentives. Last week, Topeka, Kansas announced that it would give $15,000 to people who relocate to the city and buy a home (just $10,000 for renters). Topeka’s population and job numbers have stagnated this decade. It joins the small, rural state of Vermont, which in January started paying $10,000 to people who moved there to work remotely; so far, more than 300 people have accepted. Tulsa, Oklahoma, offers $10,000, and Baltimore, $5,000 towards a home purchase. The efforts are modest—Topeka aims to attract 100 skilled workers—but they are a desperate attempt to level a playing field tilted sharply toward high-demand cities.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. Is it time for Sault Ste Marie to offer financial incentive for people to move here ?




  1. One of my neighbours at my cottage at Pointe Louise 15 years ago was running a business in the Sault called Spilltech. They manufactured chemicals and equipment for cleaning up oil spills. He had about 30 employees. He found out about an incentive program for small businesses to relocate in Alabama. City hall here wouldn’t even consider making him a counter-proposal, tax incentive, to stay in the Sault. Spilltech’s plant is now in Mobile, Alabama and has 250 employees. Its head office is in Atlanta. You can see some of its products on Amazon.

  2. Interesting idea. There have been a number of success stories of towns on the decline in North America that have offered either free or discounted property, with the provisions that the new owners invest and reside in the community amongst other things. Other examples include how Iceland (one of the most isolated and expensive places) overcame the failure of all their institutions (with the exception of a geothermal mining company and a prosthetics company) during the 2008 recession to become one of the top tourist destinations in the world and the story of the $500 house in Detroit. Even look across to Soo Mich. A city half our size has a busy downtown strip, with their business spur on the outskirts and with even less businesses rooted than what we have. If the people of Sault Ste. Marie unite together and work with the different organizations and government there is no reason why it won’t succeed.

  3. No, investment and bring in new industries to support small businesses. Paying people who are coming to the Sault with out enough descent paying jobs is setting up existing infrastructures for failure.

  4. Pull your collective heads out of where the sun doesn’t shine. This hamlet is on a spiral downward and there is no stopping it. Gov’ts are running huge deficits and can no longer afford to dump money into cesspools such as dying small rural communities. Ontario and Canadian taxpayers should not be forced to contribute to such losing propositions. There is more Gov’t money in this town, than there is private sector money. That nonsense has to stop. Like in dying communities on the east coast, Gov’t should pay people money to leave, shut the town down, leave and staunch the bleeding. Try looking beyond your simple, Gov’t-sponsored, simple existence and realize the town is dying because no one wants to live there, or relocate there. Quit wasting taxpayers dollars already.

  5. I like the Soo and have friends there I visit a few times a year. It would be great if they could attract ex patriot Americans with decent retirement benefits into the community. That would be an influx of foreign dollars that isn’t going to include competition for jobs while expanding the local economy and tax base. How to do this when most want to head South to warmer climates in the US and South and Central America will be challenging. The political climate in the States is volatile right now and there are many who would like to leave yet remain close enough to visit familly and friends. Canada has a favorable immigration system and the Soo is close enough to the US Midwest with some very populous cities from Minneapolis/ St. Paul to Green Bay to Milwaukee and Chicago. In addition Canada offers a favorable exchange rate and the Soo offers a cost of living that is much lower than many of these major metropolitan areas and comparable to the smaller ones in the region. Improving internet connection might even help attract people who work from home. Major transportation infrastructure such as more direct air service or rail service would definitely help in this regard.
    The previous governor of Wisconsin (Scott Walker) threw away the economic potential of a high speed rail system that would have created an expanded business corridor from Chicago to Green Bay and Madison to Minneapolis. Imagine tying the largest City in northwest Ontario into that system if it were put back on the table by the current governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers?
    Even medium speed rail service would suffice. The New York/New Jersey metro area has such a system of low speed public rail service that allows people to live on the jersey shore yet still work in Manhattan. In fact the Northeast corridor of Amtrak from Boston to Washington DC is the only profitable rail corridor in the whole government subsidized Amtrack system.
    Understanding that the UP of Michigan is a lot of land between the Soo and the more populous cities of the US Midwest (I’ve driven it often) I don’t expect people to directly commute from that far away but having reasonably fast access does make remote working more viable.
    There would be an adjustment period where services would need to catch up to an influx of new residents but if the money is there it will happen.
    These are just late night my cat woke me up thoughts and I’m sure I’ll take a beating for them on social media. But keep an open mind that population growth is crucial to the expanding of an economy and enticing foreign dollars is almost always a win.

    • That’s what happened years back in Sudbury when the NDP government moves Crown Corporations and Ministries to the north following the Scandinavian example.

  6. AGAIN——THIS SHOULD NOT GO UN NOTICED —thank you saultonline fur providing a moderator free comment section—works well —and fast— comments are smooth and to the point with no delays

    • I eft in 1986, friends said I was crazy to leave such a great place. They were wrong. Retuned a few times to visit and each time I was more convinced that I made the right decision. No family left and no chance I would ever return..

  7. I’ll take $10,000 to buy a home- who wouldn’t – but all that’s going to do is allow the people who own homes to move out of town, and it will also raise the friggin prices of homes.
    Sustainable jobs, sustainable industry,
    Sustainable healthcare where people don’t have to travel to see specialists, sustainable education where people who go to school in the Soo can actually get a job in the Soo.
    What would paying someone to move to the Soo accomplish?

  8. No. Personally i dont wanna live here anymore. We have nothing to do here. As fast as something comes they leave. Maybe if they bring stuff here for recreation or shopping people will come

  9. It could be tied to job creation for both those incoming and for current residents. We were looking at being an Amazon depot and lost that opportunity. Are there other online companies that we could look at instead. Perhaps Alli Express? Or Wayfair. There are opportunities out there if we just look. Are there value added businesses that could be set up here instead of sending the raw materials to the U.S. and us buying the finished products.

  10. More and more of the band-aid solutions.
    I’m not sure if the main industry of Sault Ste. Marie is social services or fabricating band-aid solutions.
    Dr. Chow – please detail the root causes and driving factors of Sault Ste. Marie’s declining population?
    If our population continues to decline, and our third main industry because importing compensated residents who primarily telecommute, then job loss will continue, standard of life will continue to decline, city-level GDP will continue to decline, etc etc ad nauseaum.
    Wouldn’t it be far more rational and logical to take the money to compensate people to move here and instead invest on those who are here and instead incent them to STAY?
    Wouldn’t it make sense to invest in telecommuting careers for those who are here but are disabled and be able to find fulfilling work?
    Further, Sault Ste Marie is in the process of losing a few hundred jobs because too many technically telecommunication upgrades are needed but aren’t feasible. How often have we seen 911 services down throughout the year? How often have we seen POS systems down in the area (most recent being 2 weeks ago)? We’ve seen fibre optic lines frequently damaged due to storms, construction, fallen trees. How would we effectively import thousands of telecommuters without being able to supply redundant, failsafe or reliable technology for them to use?
    Enough of your band-aid solutions. Action the root causes, staunch the bleeding of population decline – people don’t want to move to a city where people aren’t necessarily inspired to stay.

  11. Sault Ste. Marie is destined to be a retirement town and possibly a ghost town if they put a ferrochrome facility in it. People should be more concerned that whoever it is that owns the steel plant pays back the millions it owes in back taxes and that the same thing doesn’t happen with it again within the next 5 years. There is also a recession about to hit and few even realize it. If you have real estate to sell do it now before the prices drop drastically, don’t even think of buying real estate in Sault Ste. Marie unless you want to lose big. Batten down the hatches because there’s a rough storm ahead.

  12. Improvements to job situation,
    Healthcare (doctors)
    Just a few to start with, I for one don’t want my hard earned money I work for paying someone else to move here, that’s a real slap in the face

  13. thank you saultonline fur providing a moderator free comment section—works well —and fast— comments are smooth and to the point with no delays

  14. The small, rural state of Vermont, in January started paying $10,000 to people who moved there to work remotely from home; so far, more than 300 people, with their families, have accepted.

    • So 300 people move to a state in a year. You do realize that Vermont is not far away from New York City.
      P.S. You had your say. Let others respond.

  15. So, it was a booming town when big industry was thriving. Seems simple, attract big industry again. People will come, move there is if there are jobs.

  16. How about putting money into businesses, health care and lowering tuition. Job creation. Forget about building condos and help with mental illness. Don`t need to pay people to come if we had a city that worked on these things. This city wastes so much money on stupid things.

  17. How about you pay us to stay? Maybe help with medical a lil? Oh and something to cover damages to homes and vehicle’s being broken into would also be nice.
    Frig even a discount on home security would be real nice.

  18. In the USA, 70 percent of professionals work remotely — a phenomenon known as telecommuting — at least one day a week, while 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week. Over 5% of the working population in the US now work exclusively remotely from home.
    Nearly half (47 per cent) of Canadian employees work from outside one of their employer’s main offices for half the week or more, according to new research by Regus Canada. Some 39 per cent of respondents said they mostly work from home and 11 per cent said they work exclusively from home. 70% of those who work exclusively remotely from home are between the ages of 20 and 45. There are already people in the Sault who telecommute fulltime.
    The idea is that bringing people to the Sault, however they work, will increase our tax base. It would hopefully start to increase our population, to maybe reach critical mass, so that we could have a Costco instead of Dollar Stores.

    • If we’ve learned anything, it’s that programs which are successful elsewhere are most often unsuccessful here.
      Tulsa is a poor comparison as it’s OK’s 2nd largest state that only faces a portion of thr challenges SSM does.
      Why are we even bothering to voice our opinion when “The Great Dr. Chow” has once again spoken and like in the past will downplay and refute anyone else’s opinion by attempting to regurgitate a selected sample of ‘facts’.

    • Costco has repeatedly said that they won’t entertain the idea of opening a location here until the population reaches 100 000.
      We would need to attract 30,000 people and fund them to move here.

    • I’m semi-retired and work remotely part-time. Saves everyone money. Part of the problem is the City Council is made up of people who barely know how to use email, let alone WebEx, so they cannot think out of their box.

  19. No, what a silly idea I moved here in 2018 I was not paid to move here, I was attracted by the beauty and the reasonable prices for rent this city has to offer. Not to mention I will be able to afford to buy a house here when I finally get employed (I am in school full time).

  20. As a young adult, why? Wheres the full time jobs that doesn’t require “need many years of experience” that isn’t fast food? Also rents pretty high here and there’s literally nothing to do here unless it’s rotaryfest. Good luck getting a Dr here as there’s YEARS long waiting lists. Stuff like this, you couldn’t pay me even a million dollars to be here…I’d still wanna leave.

  21. stupid idea—–we would get all the losers no one else wants—saw that happen in my workplace—we got all the troublemakers and non productive people—-to manage quality of people invited would be a nightmare and i am sure the libs would have an outcry

  22. The city needs new tourism business not industrial polluters .Needs a parking friendly downtown .multi use year round atv / snowmobile trails.Large hotel at Searchmont.Waterfront shops .You can’t change anything for the better in the Soo since We lost our good mayor John

  23. More rhetoric and nonsense from Chow. When will he ever stop spewing?
    Tell us Peter, from your privileged position are you willing to open up your wallet and put your money where your mouth is?

    • There are qualifiers and caveats involved. It’s far too early to say that “it’s worked”.
      Perhaps we should work harder to staunch the bleeding of people leaving the Sault.
      Theast thing we need is yet another band-aid solution thrown around.

        • @Christopher Oldcorn – again, it’s a newly developed concept that hasn’t been running long enough to determine if it’s effective.
          Based on the articles I’ve read, the cities that are providing incentive are continuing to do so because it hasn’t yet bore the intended fruit.

  24. Get the Steel plant to pay their back taxes, and quit making citizens make up the difference, and stop looking at just industrial job possibilities. The Soo already has higher than normal cancer rates thanks to industrial jobs, enough is enough. The Steel plant is still putting all kinds of garbage into the air, water, and environment regardless of whatever they, or the government environmental agencies say otherwise. As for Ferrochrome, are you insane #JustSayNoToFerrochrome

  25. The glory days of the Sault are long gone and unfortunately will never return. When anchor stores at the biggest mall close their doors and leave with nothing to replace them, one can assume that things are not going to get better. Tourism is a major bust. Want a river tour, you have to go to the American side. The city covers a large area making it a poor choice for retirees to get around, especially those who don’t drive. So why would the city ever become a popular retirement destination? Older people want to escape the winter cold for as long as possible, usually six months not suffer with the cold. Paying people to move there is laughable unless they have solid employment opportunities. Otherwise they quickly become welfare recipients at the taxpayers expense welfare recipients. The Sault already has enough of those.

  26. Better services will convince people to stay and come to the city. Health care, public transportation, education services need more investment for sure. I love this city and brought my family to live here, but still struggling to find a health care provider as the only way to see a doctor is waiting +8 hours in the hospital’s emergency department, and will likely end up telling me I’m ok even though I’m not.

  27. Wouldn’t make more sense to make your city a place people want to live in? Stay in? Retire in? By making it a pleasant experience? By providing educational and cultural activities? Pleasant parks and places to recreate in? Seems everything one hears online from the Sault, from removed the museum ship Norgoma to attracting the most toxic of industries seems to send the message: “Stay Away.”

    • Dan Travaglini no its just Peter Chows stupid idea. He always full of stupid ideas. Why the hell does Sault Online or Sootoday even publish his opinions. Hes so far out of touch woth reality.

    • Matt Rickman If Peter Chow wants to improve the Soo he should encourage his Doctor Buddies to relocate here from Toronto for free. Instant 200-300 paying patients per doctor that sets up shop here…They don’t even have to advertise.

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