Rolling Out the Welcome Mat

Immigration Grows Rural Saskatchewan

It was more than ten years ago when Spiritwood venture Fast Genetics couldn’t find enough staff locally for its flourishing operation. Started in 1982 by the Fast family, the company saw remarkable growth, expanding
its hog farm operations in the mid-2000s. “Fast Genetics outgrew the local labour market,” says Bevra Fee, Northern Lakes Economic Development Corporation (NLEDC) managing director. “It was time to look outside the region and the country to grow its workforce.”

Beyond Borders

Fast Genetics began to assess its options with international recruitment. The company enlisted the help of the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) and cast its net for skilled workers across the world. The work paid off, and soon Fast Genetics was welcoming employees from Mexico and Ukraine, with the largest group coming from the Philippines. To date, there are 105 new immigrants making the Spiritwood region home, working for Fast Genetics and other companies in the area. “Our company couldn’t expand the way we have without international recruits. In addition to immigration supporting our company’s economic impact and the growth factors already outlined, the new families in general want to help make a difference in the communities in which they live,” says Shannon Meyers, general manager at Fast Genetics.

The economic and social impact for Spiritwood has been immense—in the best way possible. “Getting immigrants to the area is just the first step to real growth,” says Fee. “The next and most important step is retention and integration into the area.” These new Canadians have enthusiastically made Spiritwood home. The town and area have seen an increase in property rentals and home ownership, and new businesses start. The local schools and daycare have a stabilized population, as does the town. “The entrepreneurial spirit of the immigrant community is wonderful,” says Fee. “Plus, our new residents have attracted more immigrants to our area. In fact, Spiritwood is now home to a Filipino cultural association.”

Hoping For More

Moose Jaw. Photo by Carly Jay.

The City of Moose Jaw is hoping to see the same level of success attracting immigrants as Spiritwood. In 2019, the city worked with various local stakeholders to apply to a federal pilot program to develop its local workforce through immigration. Moose Jaw was one of just 11 jurisdictions selected and the only one in Saskatchewan. “We identified that immigration is necessary to address the labour shortage we’re experiencing in Moose Jaw,” says Moose Jaw Chamber of Commerce CEO Rob Clark. “With the number of retirements anticipated as baby boomers leave the workforce, we have to look outside the country to retain and build labour capacity.”

Moose Jaw would also secure funding for the pilot from the South Central Community Futures program to fully build out the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) for the city’s employers.

A program coordinator was hired to manage the program, and work with both applicants and employers. “Two local industries, meat processing and hospitality, were identified as most in need for immigrant employees,” says Lori Clayson, RNIP Program Coordinator. The Moose Jaw RNIP program is also bolstered by the collaboration of several community partners, including the Moose Jaw & District Chamber of Commerce, South Central Community Futures Development Corporation, the City of Moose Jaw, the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council, Prairie Skies Integration Network, the Newcomer Welcome Centre, and the Welcoming Francophone Community Initiative.

However, the pilot’s progress was slowed due to COVID-19. “So far, we have seen 3,500 applications to the program, and we have approved 14,” says Clayson. “We haven’t promoted the program yet and this is all organic growth. It really speaks to how desirable Canada is as a destination.” Most applications are coming from India, Jamaica, the Philippines and various countries across Africa.

It’s Go Time

As the pandemic eases, RNIP will begin external promotion and accelerate the application process. “We’re seeing more employers looking for labour they can’t find locally, and we expect the program to grow quickly,” says Clark. “Immigration is vital for our labour market and our region’s success. This is a great place to call home and we want to open our doors to the world.”