New initiatives tackle everything from skilled labour shortages to regulatory burden
By Janet Eastman
The Ottawa Chamber of Commerce is plugged in to some of the most important issues facing our city. For decades, the Chamber has advocated on behalf of members; it has developed policy proposals to support economic growth for regional businesses, and it has partnered with key stakeholders to promote the tremendous opportunities that Ottawa has to offer.
With this history, the Chamber is uniquely positioned to discuss the challenges that come with those opportunities, and to develop strategic initiatives to help address them. For Chamber president and CEO Ian Faris, the familiar and persistent challenges of the labour shortage and paper burden are still top-of-mind.
The shortage of labour to drive our economy continues to be a problem. This shortage will be the topic of the next issue of Capital. As a city with an advanced, technology-based economy, we have labour demands that other cities don’t have. A 2015 survey by Abacus Data showed that a lack of skilled technical workers is a growing concern. Despite (or perhaps because of) the collapse in the local tech sector in the mid-2000s, Ottawa is now home to a new breed of small businesses that are finding innovative ways to create value in the spaces left behind after the collapse. However, those companies need qualified staff to support them. And amid tentatively renewed comparisons with California’s Silicon Valley, it’s hard to argue that we compete for talent with appealing contenders that offer warmer climates and stronger dollars.
Despite some cautious optimism in early 2016 that our economy seemed to be outperforming that of the United States, we need to attract new talent and retain the highly-skilled graduates that our education institutions release every year. We also need to determine which skills our tech economy needs for the future, and work with our institutions and business community to expand the talent pool. There is an urgency associated with this. Research released in 2015 by the Information and Communications Technology Council raised alarm bells on behalf of the whole country, saying that not enough Canadians are pursuing education in technology-related fields. For the City of Ottawa, whose dominant job markets are technology and government, the risk is magnified.
To address this and other challenges, the Chamber has established a new dialogue process that brings locally-elected provincial and federal officials together with the business and economic development communities. The goal of these regular meetings is to identify opportunities for collaboration on important issues and projects, encourage investment in critical infrastructure projects to spur economic development, and seek solutions that reduce or remove barriers—such as the cumulative regulatory burden that businesses encounter when dealing with three levels of government. As Ian Faris says, “Dialogue is the start.”
The Ottawa Chamber is also part of a new national initiative, a Big City Chambers Group, which is a collection of eight metropolitan chambers and boards of trade that advocates to the Canadian government on issues of importance to cities. Their initial push is to illustrate that strategic metropolitan infrastructure assets, such as airports, can be a boon to the economy and not just a revenue generator for federal coffers. The group is encouraging the government to reinvest some of this revenue, such as rents and security fees, back into the airports for improvements in infrastructure, security processes and services for users.
Looking ahead to the Fall, Ottawa will welcome approximately 1,900 young leaders from 196 countries for the One Young World event from September 29 to October 1 (see page 41 for more details). These young delegates will seek and discuss solutions to global issues that will impact our future. The Chamber is currently working to link young local leaders with businesses who will sponsor their attendance at this transformative global forum. This is an excellent opportunity for businesses to pay it forward by fostering the community engagement of our youth.
Ian Faris also outlined a number of events that are on the Chamber calendar for the Fall, including Ottawa’s Economic Outlook, but given that we have just entered the hazy days of summer, we’ll save those for the next issue. Enjoy your summer!
Janet Eastman is a former radio announcer and television host who writes, edits and produces creative audio and video content.