Labrador businesses cite recruitment as major election issue
Transportation also a factor as provincial election race heats up
By Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Transportation and the impact it’s having on bringing in and retaining workers is one of the biggest issues facing Labrador businesses right now, according to two chambers of commerce in the region.
SaltWire Network spoke with representatives of the chambers in both Lake Melville and Labrador West about what they see as the biggest business concerns the parties should be looking at this election, and the answers were similar.
Labrador North Chamber of Commerce CEO Julianne Griffin and Labrador West Chamber of Commerce president Toby Leon both referenced the decision by Air Canada to pull flights from the region.
“That will have a significant snowball effect on many industries and businesses in the region, and that’s from car rental companies, hotels, restaurants and so on,” Griffin said. “Obviously, we rely on a reliable air transportation network for business travel as well as medical travel and for residents’ travel, attracting newcomers, tourism, development of the natural resource sector. The snowball effect will be felt and be widespread.”
Recruitment, retention strained in region
She said recruitment and retention of professionals is already strained in Labrador, and making it harder to get in and out of the region isn’t helping.
Leon echoed Griffin’s comments on recruitment, retention and the impact of losing flights to the region, cutting it off from any transportation hubs.
“Recruitment and retention mean we have to be able to get in and out of here reasonably,” he said. “We don’t want people to fly in here to work, we want people to live here, spend money in the coffee shops, the ski hill, and grow our economy here locally.”
Relying on fly-in and fly-out workers like some companies have to do now isn’t helping the economy, Leon said, and increases the cost of business. There needs to be reasons for people to stay, he said, and being able to easily get in and out of the region is part of that.
“Without the support of government making it a level playing field to live here as opposed to somewhere else, then recruitment and retention will always be a problem,” he said.
Griffin and Leon both said the entire transportation network, from roads to the ferry service, is important, and upkeep of those parts of the network are critical to the region.
The Atlantic Loop, a proposed electricity grid for the east coast, has been a topic of conversation at both federal and provincial levels and includes Muskrat Falls.
They haven’t heard much on the future of the project, Griffin said, but the chamber does hope if it proceeds, Muskrat Falls could be a part of driving wealth for Labrador and the whole province.
“The potential to meet environmental goals is huge,” she said. “This might lead to improved operational costs off diesel consumption for operators like Voisey’s Bay. We see a lot of diesel being consumed on the north coast of Labrador and we really hope it will lead to more growth in the natural resource sector.”
Griffin said to help with the labour market requirements, there needs to be more outreach to schools and industry about the opportunities available and better alignment between programs offered and the needs of the province.
“What we hope to see, if we really focus on meeting our labour market challenges, is encouraging Labradorians to remain in Labrador and live and work here for a long time,” she said.