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City pilot to assist local businesses struggling to find workers

'Recognizing the national workforce shortage is impacting our companies, we’ll be helping North Bay businesses tackle it with a local, customized solution'
2022 08 03 Al McDonald (Campaigne)
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald

The City of North Bay is launching a new pilot initiative this fall aimed at supporting employee recruitment for local businesses.

"We are being innovative. There is no question there is public money being used because the province, the feds, and the municipality," are working together, said Mayor Al McDonald from City Hall, Wednesday.

He continued, " But, I don't want to be the Mayor and I'm sure our staff don't want to be saying to local businesses, 'I'm sorry, I can't help.' We need to be a part of that solution and the more businesses that expand and grow — and the more businesses we can bring in — our city is going to be sustainable well into the future."

The approximate program cost of $200,000 will be largely funded through contributions from the provincial and federal governments and McDonald noted part of the municipal contribution will come on an in-kind basis, in the form of staff resources. The workforce initiative will involve the development of tools and training for employers; deployment of HR expertise to work one-on-one with businesses; virtual job fairs and recruitment events, as well as increasing awareness of current resources.

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Coun. Dave Mendicino was a driving force in this second iteration of the BR&E program. Immediate concerns brought forward through the survey process were addressed, where possible, by staff and the BR&E Red Flag team which is comprised of members of Council, a representative of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce and senior City staff. According to the associated staff report, "Longer-term challenges and opportunities helped form the basis of project recommendations that will be implemented over the next one to two years."

Mendicino is part of that Red Flag team and said it helped address challenges for business owners. He gave the example of a business on a street badly in need of repair. "You take it one step further," he said, "and you find out there are 10 more businesses on that street that were experiencing the same problem but no one had said anything. The Red Flag team — even though there was no money in the capital budget — found a way to get that street done."

Stemming from the City’s Business Retention and Expansion Program (BR&E) and supported by local workforce partners, this new Workforce Attraction and Retention Initiative will take a multi-pronged approach to provide individualized guidance and tools to North Bay employers in need of human resource assistance.

"We are pleased to be taking action with this two-year pilot project,” said McDonald. "Recognizing the national workforce shortage is impacting our companies, we’ll be helping North Bay businesses tackle it with a local, customized solution."

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The City’s BR&E program, which was recently recognized with an Award of Excellence by Business Retention & Expansion International (BREI), identified workforce attraction and retention as a key priority for local businesses. The BREI 2022 Impact Award recognizes economic development organizations, municipalities and/or states or provinces who have demonstrated an outstanding usage of business retention and expansion strategies and tactics for growing and sustaining small business.

"Although not unique to North Bay, the workforce was identified in the BR&E report as a barrier to growth," said McDonald. "Our Economic Development Department will be rolling out the Workforce Attraction and Retention Initiative in the fall as part of the implementation phase of the BR&E program recommendations."

In the implementation phase of the Business Retention and Expansion program, its findings are intended to lead to recommendations to address challenges and opportunities identified by 250 local firms of varying sizes and industries via a confidential survey. The program is touted as "standardized, internationally-recognized," and has been "used as an economic development tool to help gain input and a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities currently facing local firms."

BR&E Coordinator Fran Hanover said at least 70 to 80 per cent of the businesses in the local BR&E program are having issues with human resources. "We are not headhunters. What the program is going to do is have a team with HR expertise do a gap analysis of the business to see what policies and changes they can put in place to make them more attractive to a candidate to come and work with them. It's like having someone parachute into your company to have a look."

The latest round of large-scale BR&E consultations launched in 2019. The program is designed to better understand the needs of local firms and to identify ways of helping them remain competitive and grow. The City of North Bay reminds businesses they can still participate in the BR&E process. Owners are encouraged to reach out to the City’s Economic Development Department to arrange a visit and learn more about support for growth. Please contact Fran Hanover at (705) 474-0400 x. 2424.

“This new initiative is part of our continuing effort to engage with and support our business community,” added McDonald. “We all know the importance of supporting local businesses and it is wonderful to see such a strong return of community events and business gatherings this summer.”