New residents seek economic diversification, improved downtown

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


A survey of people who have moved to the Windsor area found the new residents are generally satisfied with life in their new home, but the region is still battling negative stereotypes regarding the local economy and downtown.

The three-month Workforce WindsorEssex survey of 921 people, including 405 people from either the rest of Canada or who have immigrated to the country, was conducted from August through October. In addition, Workforce conducted focus groups involving 28 people.

Julian Villafuerte, program co-ordinator and researcher overseeing the survey for Workforce WindsorEssex, said those moving from outside the area aren’t coming for the job opportunities.

“We’ve got to get the message out there’s more to the local economy than just the old perceptions of automotive,” Villafuerte said. “They like most things about living here other than the perceived strength of the local economy and the variety of jobs available.”

Villafuerte said the purpose of the wide-ranging survey was to help local officials and businesses understand what motivates peoples’ choices and to develop a strategy to lure and retain talent based on evidence.

With previous research finding the area is losing three university-educated residents for every two that locate here, the survey also focused on highly educated graduates.

“The university educated have a disproportional impact on a local economy,” Villafuerte said, noting the university education factor increases the average wage. “We felt the best effort to impact the community was to focus on this group because they are the most mobile group in society.”

A positive revealed in the survey is 75.8 per cent of university-educated professionals don’t plan on leaving in the next five  years. Just over 71 per cent of young professionals, 45-and-under, also envision themselves in the area in five years.

The only group with a majority expecting not to be living locally were college graduates.

Overall, 68.6 per cent of survey respondents indicate they see themselves in the region in five years.

Immigrants to Canada shared the economic concerns of those moving here from within the country.

However, new Canadians were more enthusiastic than any other group about their new home in just about every category.

The most popular reasons for both groups moving to the region were: cost of living, cost of housing, family friendliness, climate, commute times and proximity to Detroit.

Those moving from elsewhere in Canada diverged a bit from immigrants in finding it harder to make friends, expressed frustration with the lack of progressive ideas and felt the locals were too negative.

They also expressed concerns about safety and the environment.

Related to the safety concern was the general high-ranking concern among city and county residents, along with those from outside the area, about the social issues and economic state of Windsor’s downtown.

“I think the most meaningful surprise shared across the region is the importance of downtown Windsor to both city and county residents,” Villafuerte said. “People feel the city’s core is the barometer of the region. It’s the heartbeat of the region.”

The social issues of drugs and homelessness topped the list of least favourite things about the region.

Also on that least were the economy, safety, downtown Windsor and the lack of amenities or things to do in general.

When given a choice of 15 things that could be done to impact talent attractiveness of the region, respondents listed improvements to downtown Windsor, more job opportunities in their field and more things to do in that order.

The top vote-getters on the list of favourite things in descending order were: specific amenities (winery, bike trails, festivals), diversity of people and cultures, proximity to Detroit, variety of foods, the waterfront and Great Lakes and weather.