'We need money for housing:' Muskoka Lakes chamber responds to business survey results

·3 min read

Results from Muskoka Lakes’ latest business survey show local businesses want to hire more staff this year, but a chamber of commerce’s representative said finding places for new temporary employees to live is the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Corey Moore, economic development co-ordinator for the township, shared the annual business survey result at council’s meeting April 14. 77 businesses responded to the survey, open from Jan. 12 to Feb. 16.

“I think what we can see from the results is a lot of businesses are adapting this year,” Moore said during the meeting.

According to the report, 70 per cent of the businesses surveyed said they’re looking to hire additional staff in 2021, while 30 per cent said they will not. 50 per cent of businesses said they saw no change in employment numbers from 2019 to 2020.

The report’s statistics suggest businesses are looking to go bigger in 2021: 83 per cent made investments in growing their business, whether it was expanding their buildings, getting new or better equipment, or establishing a digital presence.

According to comments from the responding businesses, the biggest challenges for businesses operating successfully in the township were the pandemic, issues with internet connectivity, challenges finding staff, hosting pedestrian-friendly spaces, and accommodating staff with affordable housing.

“The biggest barrier, especially in Muskoka Lakes, is there is no housing for staff,” said Norah Fountain, the Muskoka Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, said. “We’ve known about it for 25 years. There’s no more time for talk.”

She said the chamber launched a short-term rental program for students in 1999 which had some success, but now, in the age of COVID-19, some people are resisting the idea of hosting people in their homes.

Fountain said she understands these concerns, but emphasized the underemployment of many businesses in the township has reached “beyond crisis point” — beyond what municipalities can handle alone.

“The municipality has to become the champion and push it up to the province, to the federal government,” she said. “We need money for housing, we need to find land for housing, and we have to build housing.”

Moore said Muskoka Lakes will continue to use the report's data to inform their economic develop plan.

The township is in the midst of rolling out its COVID-19 economic recovery plan. While none the township’s COVID-19 community support initiatives directly address housing issues, Fountain praised them for extending their temporary patio extension program to the end of 2021.

“There aren’t that many places you can sit outside and eat," she said. “The chamber would like to see the municipality consider making that a permanent thing."

The township is continuing their “shop local” campaign for spring and summer, and are launching a contest in June called 'Hike the Lakes' which encourages people to hike local trails and find QR codes to scan enter the contest for one of 10 local business gift certificates.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY

​Our reporter wanted to investigate what obstacles may stand in the way of the economic growth Muskoka Lakes businesses are aiming for this tourist season.

Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com