There’s a key word that I haven’t been hearing in our discussions about our region’s future economic stability – retention.
Economist David Campbell says we need at least 3,000 people to join the workforce annually to pay for the social services we’ve come to expect. A lofty goal, but one he thinks is reachable. Manitoba – with its bitter winters, dry summers, and extensive rural territory – is roughly the same population as New Brunswick, and it managed to attract 17,000 people last year.
But while I read a lot about our immigration goals and strategies, I want more public discussion about a complimentary retention plan. We need to be working not just to attract people, but also to keep them here – and to keep the people who are born here.
The City of Moncton’s website states that we are the fastest growing Canadian urban centre east of Saskatchewan. Compared to national figures, we have low housing costs (average house price of $166,476) and the country’s lowest cost of business. Great numbers for attracting potential residents, particularly those interested in establishing businesses.
Now we need to turn those numbers into a narrative. We need to tell the stories that will draw people to our region. I’m not talking about pretty pictures of families by the ocean or diverse workplaces. I want to see honest stories about the individuals who, on a day-to-day basis, call this city home.
We need couples who relocated from Ontario explaining what values drew them east to raise a family. We need more young doctors telling other medical students the benefits of practicing in a smaller centre. We need start up firms and angel investors bragging about the workforce and the opportunity.
Most importantly, we need to tell ourselves why we’re here. We need the diverse values and interests that shape the Greater Moncton Area to be reflected back at us in everything from kids’ books to TEDxMoncton talks to trailers before movies. Honestly, consider the question: why do you live here? If the only answer you have is because it’s where you were born, that’s frankly not enough. We all deserve to be passionate about the place we call home.
I’m still working on this one. I need to know more about what makes this corner of New Brunswick special to me and my family, so that I can instill that pride of place in my children. I grew up in Cape Breton and I can talk for hours about how that shaped who I am and why it’s a place I’d still happily call home with my family. I don’t have that same narrative yet about New Brunswick, and until I find it, I don’t automatically see a future where my children choose to live here. But I want them to imagine their lives here, as much as I want them to also explore the world. I want them to grow up proud of their community, proud of their neighbours, and proud of themselves for being part of this story.
To do that, I need to keep reading more about the history of this place and becoming more involved in the present. But I also need inspiration. I need to hear the stories of the people this place has shaped. I need to feel the tugs on my heartstrings, not just my pocket book. And so do the people we want to bring to this area. If Moncton has any hope of attracting and retaining 3,000 new residents each year, we need to tell them that living here is about more than affordable housing and proximity to the ocean. We need them to want to be Monctonians.