Autumn Wilson Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce manager says the chamber works to strengthen the broader community. /JENN WATT Staff

Chamber focuses on recruiting more workers encouraging local shopping

By Jenn Watt

Published April 10 2018

The Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce’s recent focus on bringing in more young workers has garnered attention beyond county borders.

The Workforce Development Project created by the chamber to advertise the Highlands to potential new residents caught the attention of representatives from business and trade representatives from around the province says chamber manager Autumn Wilson.

In February Wilson was asked to participate on a panel called Bring Your A Game at the Chamber Executives of Ontario conference which followed Advocacy Day at Queen’s Park with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce where she spoke to Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Mitzie Hunter about local labour shortages.

“We gained a lot of recognition” says Wilson. “People were really impressed with our ability to get the funding.”

Through delegations to area councils Wilson secured $10000 in funding to create a video that will be available for all area employers to use to recruit young workers from outside the area.

In recent months it has been reported that the Highlands is lacking in skilled labour particularly among the 21 to 44 age range. In Highlands East council heard that businesses were struggling to find workers.

Wilson hopes the video will be a step toward addressing that problem.

“When [potential workers] see this video they see ‘I can see myself living here. This is a community. People can live here with kids’” she says.

“We do a great job in terms of tourism but we need people to live here” she says. “[Businesses] can offer a good wage and a great job but the person has to move here. A lot of younger people may not necessarily be willing to take the leap and the risk.”

Although Haliburton County council set aside $10000 for the project the hope is that Rural Economic Development funding will help offset that cost.

Wilson says the chamber has been focusing over the last year on improving the overall community not only working for chamber members.

“The biggest thing is yes we have members and we cater to them and that’s our job and that’s our role but a lot of the work we do benefits the whole community” she says.

The chamber has been involved in gathering local business sentiment on election issues and regularly assists in informing the public during elections including co-hosting all-candidates meetings.

The chamber is also dedicating its time to a Buy Close By initiative.

Following the introduction of the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act which changed several aspects of labour law and bumped the minimum wage to $14 an hour starting Jan. 1 2018 it was felt in the community that more needed to be done to support small businesses.

Chamber president Richard Wannan said the Buy Close By came to mind.

He says he had been thinking about the concept over the last four years.

“The community has to learn to support the community” he says noting that “a significant number of dollars” go to online shopping or shopping out of town.

The initiative will include marketing to let consumers know why it’s important to keep your dollars local but will also include education for business about what they need to do to attract shoppers increase their online presence and do marketing. He said they are also working on a loyalty program for the county.

Wannan says the chamber is also broadening its approach looking to promote other services that will help retain customers.

For example by promoting the telemedicine program at Haliburton Highlands Health Services people who would normally leave town for specialist appointments could opt to stay in town instead.

“If more people knew about telemedicine they may not be leaving town to see a specialist” he says.