Mayor Darrin Canniff says he’s Chatham-Kent’s biggest cheerleader, but he wants others to get on board.
Speaking at the annual mayoral address to members of the Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce, Canniff discussed a variety of issues facing Chatham-Kent, but encouraged those in attendance to be empowered to make Chatham-Kent a better place.
“I’m a C-K cheerleader. I love this community. We need you to step out and empower this community,” he said to about 80 people at the breakfast meeting. Local entrepreneur Robb Nelson attended the mayoral address. He left impressed.
“I think he’s doing the right thing creating a positive culture. And empowering C-K,” he said. “People want to see continued growth. We’ve seen it in all our businesses.”
Canniff said it’s been a busy time following his election at the end of October. To date, he’s met with 180 service clubs and sports organizations in the community, and is in the process of touring various industries.
“So far, we’ve been out to 50 or 60 manufacturers. We want to know how to help them succeed,” he said. “The vast majority are doing very well. We have so many world-class organizations in C-K.”
Canniff said what he’s seen so far has surprised him.
“It blows me away the kinds of systems they have in place. And many want to expand.”
He said what he’s hearing from these businesses are that the strengths are in the community and the people.
Plus, there’s a shortage of space out there for companies to expand or move into.
“Five or six years ago, we had millions of square feet of industrial space available. We have virtually zero now,” Canniff said. “If we had two or three buildings built on spec, they’d be filled. Businesses don’t want to wait two years for a building to be built.”
Staffing these industries is to the point everyone who wants to work who lives in Chatham-Kent is doing so, Canniff said. There remains a shortage of skilled labour, according to local industrialists, and jobs are available.
As lacking as we are in factory space, housing space is also a concern. There remains little in the way of inventory for realtors to sell to people looking for homes, and rental availability is below one per cent, Canniff said.
“Our housing prices are going up, but we are still very competitive,” he said.
Those attractive house prices are helping to draw people to Chatham-Kent. Canniff said Stats Can figures aren’t available after 2016 at this point, but he said municipal numbers indicate it is growing once again.
“As we grow, it helps keep our taxes lower,” he said. “If we want to attract businesses, we want to see more of it.”
Nelson said housing and land prices are attracting people and business to the municipality.
“We are the hot spot in Southwestern Ontario right now. We have the cheapest land costs,” he said. “The cost to open a business and the cost to live is very low compared to the rest of Southwestern Ontario.”
In terms of resident retention, Canniff said he has visited with students in schools, and about three quarters of them said they planned on moving away from Chatham-Kent when they graduate.
“They think there are too few jobs out there. We need to educate them. There are jobs in C-K. And with retirements, there will be many more,” he said.
He said he explained the realities to the students that opportunities are certainly available locally, and “after the discussion, virtually every one of them wanted to come back.”
Canniff said collectively we have to educate our kids that there are opportunities here in Chatham-Kent.
“We want them to come back.”
Getting them back will also involve giving them support and encouragement. Canniff said he would like to see municipal personnel touch base with students in grades 7-12 on an annual basis.
“We have to make people feel welcome. We need more people here,” he said.
That goes well beyond students considering leaving C-K. Improving the experience when dealing with people at the Civic Centre can help, Canniff said.
“C-K services, we have to be responsive, listening. That’s not always the case. We need to work on that,” he said. “When someone speaks to anyone in the municipality, they have to go away feeling they had a great customer experience.”