Peterborough County council wants regional task force formed to deal with barriers to new business

The need for land, buildings, housing and transportation, combined with difficulty finding staff, are the top barriers to bringing new businesses to the Peterborough area, and retaining ones already here, an economic development official says.

Rhonda Keenan, president and chief executive office of Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development, made the remarks in an update presented to county council on Wednesday.

“The challenge that we have is with very limited opportunities to put people in places.... We just don’t have land that is attractive at this point,” she said, while suggesting the need for regional co-operation.

While there are businesses showing interest in expanding in the Peterborough region, and the agency has “a lot to brag about” for its accomplishments over the past six months, Keenan said it’s critical that she share the obstacles she is seeing and hearing from the business community.

Companies require, not only land, but housing for employees and transportation routes to get them to where the jobs are located, said Keenan.

When COVID-19 hit, a warden and mayor’s task force was created to address what was happening on the ground with businesses, Keenan said, and that kind of collective response is still needed to unlock some answers.

In response, council passed a motion to resurrect the task force made up of PKED, city and county representatives.

“I think this, for us, would be preferable to any acts of annexation talks,” said Sherry Senis, deputy warden and mayor of Selwyn Township, who brought forth the motion.

Jim Martin, mayor of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen Township, said lack of transit along Highway 7 hinders people trying to get to work in Peterborough from his township, and he would like to see a collaborative effort to ease the problem.

“We lost the Greyhound and any other transportation is too expensive to get into the city,” Martin said.

Keenan said the agency received 25 new business inquiries between June and December, and it is still working with those companies, but six of them have been lost due to “lack of inventory, whether that was land or a specific time of building they were looking for.”

Joe Taylor, mayor of Otonabee-South Monaghan Township, asked Keenan why, if there are so many jobs available — 16,160 listed in her report — businesses are having trouble hiring people.

One reason is a number of people 55 and older have retired, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are a combination of pieces contributing to the labour shortage, she explained.

Keenan told council that, speaking anecdotally, it seems more people are seeking part-time work than full-time, calling it a “weird phenomenon” that she doesn’t “fully understand or appreciate.”

“From a mental health perspective, people are saying ‘this is all that I can take on’, and I don’t know if it’s because they already have a part-time job and they fit in a second part time job, or if that’s all that they are able to physically handle.”

Keenen said businesses that are struggling with workforce shortages are construction, manufacturing, agriculture and food services.

The agency is involved with a number of programs connecting employers with employment agencies, graduating students, and job seekers, as well as supporting startups and entrepreneurs, she continued.

In its 2023 budget and business plan, also presented to county council on Wednesday, Keenan said the agency is seeking a two per cent increase in funding from the county for 2023, which amounts to $49,288 since 2022.

The budget request will be sent to council’s finance committee.

The agency will make a similar presentation to Peterborough city council on Monday night.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner