Rhino's Ramblings: Economic Indicators

Robert Thomas

I had coffee last week with one of my Newcomer friends and they told me they're in the process of leaving the Friendly City.

It's a conversation I've heard close to 10 times now in the past couple of years. They have their education now through Sask Polytechnic and it's time to move on to greener pastures. Like so many other local kids who are rapidly discovering Moose Jaw and even Saskatchewan is not the place to be.

It's something which happens far too often, for many families, as their children and grandchildren pack up and leave. Jobs and opportunities beckon elsewhere. It's something the City has tried often to stop with certain levels of success.

It's the same with the immigrant community. And in some ways much more entrenched as Moose Jaw is simply a waypoint in their great Canadian adventure as they strive for their dreams. This is a city whose size and ease to get around serves as a great place to start out but then it's time to move on.

Some might tell you it all has to deal with the lack of a cultural hub, a true ethnic hub for many of the communities to hold them in Moose Jaw. For myself, personally, I don't believe it.

It all has to deal with simple economics. In today's world the immigrant community is highly mobile. We don't live in the past where once your family ended up on a patch of land you simply stayed there and toughed it out.

In today's world the immigrant community is often highly educated as well. If jobs, opportunity and, above all, money, is not readily available in a community, today's immigrants and refugees to Canada will gravitate to locales where they can better find it.

If you truthfully don't believe me, I can add that it's it's something Sask Polytechnic actually markets to keep their enrolment numbers up. Foreign students are big dollars on the ledger as their tuition fees are double what's charged to Canadian citizens. It helps out the bottom line in an institution which has been laying off employees in an ever tightening financial marketplace. A highly competitive one.

Most people in Moose Jaw, when they think about immigrants, they see the best place to get information is the Moose Jaw Multicultural Association (MJMCA) when in fact the greater majority of Newcomers never step foot in its doors or even know it exists.

The cultures which make up Moose Jaw are far larger than those holding membership in that organization. But there is one thing you can determine from the MJMCA, that is which cultural communities are staying and which ones are merely transiting through.

It's like my own experience; I have my foot in both the old and new worlds as I have been actively involved in the years long process of moving back home. It's a slow and methodical process as you basically transfer the flag from one locale to a place 9 time zones away.

There is family and personal considerations to make before making the plunge.

With that said, are there opportunities in this city? Yes, of course there are. They're just not being achieved for whatever reason but they are still out there.

For instance, there was a major push at one time to bring in people from Ukraine to do certain jobs, which held great promise as their newer community increased in the province but recently world events have changed that.

The move towards integration into Europe has led to places like Poland, desperate for workers to keep their economy moving with an aging population, to open the doors to Ukrainian workers, while at the same time steadfastly refusing to accept migrants.

It's led to a situation where there is a massive backlog as young Ukrainians are lining up for the new biometric passports and then off to work in Europe. For many, it's right next door in Poland, where ironically, new laws make it illegal to publicly support or profess support for Western Ukrainian nationalism. Sort of a re-integration into the Polish empire.

One of the big things people here in Canada fail to realize is that we don't live in a perfect society. The newcomer community can quickly key into this and spot the flaws, things which we don't see or rather maybe don't want to admit to.

On the reverse side, the newcomer community is also able identify opportunity we don't see here. They also know how to exploit it to earn a better living.

I always ask newcomers I know if having a larger community is what they are looking for here in Canada and many will say no it's not the number one priority. Number one is making a good and decent living and if they have to move they will move to do it. It's simply a fact of life.

For myself, personally, these are the individuals whose lives serve as an indicator into how the local economy is doing. What is their retention rate locally? Are they staying and integrating after many serve the requirements of the Immigrant Nominee Program or packing up and leaving?

At the present time, Moose Jaw is continuing its age long battle of identifying and attracting industry which will hopefully bring good jobs and with it an increased tax base. It's not a very easy thing to do.

Moose Jaw has experienced it's fair share of economic oddities over the years. We have manufactured fibreglass truck caps, charcoal briquettes, cigarettes, steel buildings and grain bins, windows and even had an organic herb and vitamin manufacturer.

All in the heart of a city surrounded by agriculture.

For myself, it all leaves me wondering as yet another newcomer prepares to pack up and leave, if we have been self defeating. Shouldn't we be trying to attract value added in the agriculture product area and gleaning further dollars to fall into the local economy?

It's like my friends Olya and Elena in Odessa when I was first there in the Spring of 2014. It was relatively easy for me to notice things I saw in Belgorod in 1998 and tell them how eerily similar the crash was there to their situation. And this is what some people I knew there did to adapt and get around the collapse and come out massively ahead 3 years later.

After I returned home to Moose Jaw, I started hearing reports from my friends about how they adapted my observations to their situation and with a lot of hard work moved rapidly from retailer to distributor to, finally, importer of top brand name cosmetic products for the burgeoning health and beauty market.

In 2017 I returned to Odessa and my friends picked up the entire bill to say thank you. They've also paid my way to Germany, France and Italy in the last couple of years because I'm their good luck charm while they are out negotiating distribution deals. I also hold a German passport which comes in handy as well I guess.

It all leaves me thinking that perhaps we need a new set of eyes with a different perspective to just tell us there truly is opportunity here and we are so accustomed to self defeat we are missing the obvious.

It's something to think about.

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