Thunder Bay economy poised for rebound in 2022, economic development official says

Economic development experts in Thunder Bay, Ontario say the local economy is poised to rebound in 2022 and tourism could lead the way.

When Community Economic Development Corporation Chairman Eric Zakrewski announced his retirement to his board on March 23, he said the city-funded group tasked with diversifying the economy had already completed its strategic plan. , nearly a year ahead of schedule.

“I’m proud to say that, you know, by the time my term ends later this summer, we will have exceeded all of the guidelines provided by our board of directors,” he said. “And we will seek, as I said, to chart a really new, bold and aggressive vision for the next three years for the City of Thunder Bay.”

As Zakrewski begins to consult on the 2023-2026 plan, he finally sees tourism development plans with long runs coming to fruition.

Tourism potential

The CEDC oversaw the distribution of $1.4 million in new hotel taxes collected through the Municipal Lodging Tax to promote the tourism sector last year, the highest per capita rate of any cities in Ontario. More than eight million Canadians searched for resources online to see what it’s like to visit, work and live in Thunder Bay last year, a 250% increase from 2020.

From the Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Fort William Gardens in February to the expansion of the disc golf and mountain biking sectors, opportunities for growth in sports tourism will be showcased in a report the CEDC will release by the end of the year. year.

But Zakrewski thinks locals will really take notice of the rising tide this spring when the first 600ft-long cruise ship appears in the bay.

Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission general manager Eric Zakrewski told council last week that he plans to retire later this year. (Supplied/Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission)

“I can assure people that when the end of May or shortly thereafter, when Viking’s first ship comes into our port, I think the minds of most people in Thunder Bay will be changed forever as to the potential that we have on the Great Lakes,” he said.

While Zakrewski sees local businesses better positioned to benefit from nearly $5 billion in new mining investments nearby over the next few years, he pointed out that the CEDC has also matched 250 new immigrants with hard-to-fill jobs across the country. last year. He said the attraction rate is “best in class” among the 11 cities involved in Canada’s rural and northern immigration pilot.

Growing optimism

Thunder Bay Ventures managing director Maria Vidotto also sees optimism among local entrepreneurs, especially retail businesses that have fared well during the pandemic.

“Some businesses have suffered, but for the most part we have seen some growth,” Vidotto said. “I think everyone is really excited for the future and they see the end of this pandemic. I think people are optimistic, but they are treading carefully.”

Vidotto highlighted his group 2021 Small Business Surveywhich showed that 95% of local businesses “expect to experience improved or stable economic well-being” in 2022. This figure is even higher than the 92% of business owners who felt this way in 2019. While only 45% of respondents felt the local economy was stable during the pandemic, 89% said they believed the business climate would improve in 2022, a rate 3% more optimistic than pre-pandemic perceptions.

But after four decades of weak economic growth, Lakehead University economics professor Livio Di Matteo believes the secure future of Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario still lies in its traditional strengths of resource extraction and public services, including a growing indigenous service sector. He sees potential for growth in retaining international students, but says the city needs to improve social conditions to attract new residents on the scale it needs.

“The constant national media attention to the various social issues that have affected Thunder Bay doesn’t always show us in the best light,” Di Matteo said. “One way [to address that] is to simply say, “Well, it’s just the media,” or, “These are issues that aren’t as bad as you might think.

“On the other hand, the other way to deal with it is to notice that there are issues and maybe fix them so that people who keep raising them have their needs met.”

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