Stem­ming the brain drain

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page -

There were few, if any, bomb­shells dropped at a spe­cial meet­ing of North Glen­garry coun­cil last Tues­day evening in Alexan­dria. Coun­cil had gath­ered to hear Ian Duff, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment con­sult­ing firm, McSweeney, dis­cuss the re­sults of a sur­vey it had con­ducted with more than 450 town­ship res­i­dents.

Al­most ev­ery­one who par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey had great things to say about North Glen­garry. They like the town­ship’s laid-back and af­ford­able life­style, the bilin­gual cli­mate, and the com­mu­nity as­sets like parks, recre­ation cen­tres and churches. They also ap­pre­ci­ate the wide va­ri­ety of mer­chants and restau­rants, not to men­tion the hos­pi­tal, schools, and nearby ac­cess to VIA Rail.

Pre­dictably, how­ever, those sur­veyed iden­ti­fied the same old sit­u­a­tions that North Glen­garry has been bat­tling for years. Top­ping the list, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Duff, was that Alexan­dria’s la­goons are at full ca­pac­ity -- a prob­lem that needs to be rec­ti­fied if the town is to see any growth.

Fur­ther vex­a­tion is caused by our lack­lus­tre and of­ten un­re­li­able ac­cess to high-speed In­ter­net. In fact, Mr. Duff said that might even be more prob­lem­atic than the la­goons.

“The more we probed, the more it be­came the num­ber one pri­or­ity,” he said. “If you don’t have high-speed In­ter­net, you won’t get peo­ple to move here.”

Mayor Jamie Mac­Don­ald, who is also War­den of the United Counties of SDG, nipped that in the bud by stress­ing that im­prov­ing ac­cess to the wide world web is a big pri­or­ity and that the Eastern On­tario Regional Net­work is pro­ject­ing 90 per cent cov­er­age across the re­gion by 2022.

Round­ing out the top three is­sues was – big sur­prise – roads. Ev­ery­one has a hor­ror story to tell about the de­crepit state of their roads. A pot­hole

here or too many cracks there. At the same time, res­i­dents are con­cerned that their taxes are too high. While this might seem a con­tra­dic­tion – you need money to pay for road re­pairs and that money comes from taxes, after all – ev­ery­thing seemed to boil down to the fact that North Glen­garry’s pop­u­la­tion is shrink­ing, which means that the tax bur­den has to be shared more heav­ily among those of us who still live here.

In­deed, Mr. Duff said that the town­ship isn’t los­ing a lot of peo­ple, it’s just that those peo­ple are get­ting older. The av­er­age age here is now 46 as young peo­ple con­tinue to do what young peo­ple do in small towns ev­ery­where – they leave.

Deputy-Mayor Carma Wil­liams ex­pressed some frus­tra­tion over this, say­ing, “I keep hear­ing that North Glen­garry is los­ing young peo­ple but no one ever has an idea how to solve that.”

Well there were some po­ten­tial so­lu­tions that were bandied about at the meet­ing. One of them was tracking young peo­ple. That doesn’t mean stalk­ing them; it means form­ing a re­la­tion with them. Get to know them while they’re young, while they’re still here. Keep re­mind­ing them what an awe­some place North Glen­garry is.

An­other so­lu­tion is for smarter mar­ket­ing. The same house in North Glen­garry that sells for $300,000 might sell for a cool mil­lion in Toronto, but it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the Toronto mind­set when urg­ing Toron­to­ni­ans to move here. They may be con­di­tioned to think that a $300K house is a dump; North Glen­garry may need to re­mind them that the house is priced so low be­cause of dif­fer­ent eco­nomic re­al­i­ties, not be­cause the house doesn’t have any bathrooms.

Per­son­ally speak­ing, I, at 46, am the age of the av­er­age Glen­gar­rian. I have lived here for more than 1/3 of my life and I like it very much. I am op­ti­mistic that some pos­i­tive change is around the cor­ner. I be­lieve that – just like the Maxville Wa­ter Project – the la­goons will soon re­ceive their much vaunted up­grades. At that time, I think we will see some real growth.


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