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The Complexity of Developing Rural Workforce through Immigration

Economic and cultural diversity in Canada’s few cities threatens the retention and attraction of immigrants in small to rural areas. Using a literature review, jurisdictional scan, data from the longitudinal immigration database (IMDB) and community consultations with 199 key stakeholders in five small centers across Ontario, the Public Policy Forum and Pathways to Prosperity revealed three immigration trends in small centres in Ontario (Esses & Carter, 2019). These trends include:

  • Unstable immigration stock and Low retention rates

  • Multiple social, economic, demography, infrastructure development and cultural factors determine immigrants’ attraction to a new community

  • Factors that determine immigrant attraction are the same factors that influence immigrant retention.

In the subsequent sections, I will present my lessons from the case study in New Brunswick and mobility strategies from Esses and Carter. I will also highlight a limitation of these strategies.

Case Study: Village of Chipman, New Brunswick

Adopting a sector-based or place-based approach to strategic workforce development, such as mobility programs in silos, is insufficient to deal with rural economic development challenges. In the village of Chipman, the influx of newcomers posed three conflicting economic development realities. On the one hand, mobility programs helped local companies overcome spatially motivated labor competition. On the other hand, locals of these communities felt threatened emotionally and economically by the uncertain nature of investments in newcomers and businesses’ preference for newcomers (Public Policy Forum, 2019). This reality led to the third reality of newcomers, “not feeling at home.”

Strategies for Immigration Retention

Meanwhile, traditional approaches, such as online information portals, welcoming community campaigns and events, employer-supported initiatives, and incentives for relocation to small centers and rural areas, have not been sufficient to revitalize small centers because of their piecemeal nature. Similar to Giguère’s (2008, p. 50 (Box 2.1)) claim that strategic workforce development should consider social and subjective factors, the complexity of immigrant attraction and retention requires collaboration as well as short term and long term initiatives. Hence, Esses and Carter (2019) propose the following strategies :

  • Awareness creation on the necessity of talent attraction to rural and small centres

  • Employment support programs with intercultural competence and networking at the centre

  • Municipal programs with international student connection at the centre

  • Multilevel governance to increase investment opportunities that enable immigrants' contribution to economic development. Learn more about varying this strategy for diverse rural and small communities.

  • Versatile customer service for settlement supports

  • Infrastructure development in terms of housing, transportation and amenities to support young families

Conclusion and Limitations

In sum, delivering mobility programs in small communities is a complex issue requiring a holistic approach through collaboration. Also, I believe that factors leading to the second reality need to be further explored and adequately addressed since awareness creation may be insufficient. For instance, issues leading to the second reality of mobility programs in Chipman may be a result of businesses’ susceptibility to over-priced wages as a result of asymmetric information, low literacy or education levels in the existing local workforce population or rapid technological change which may make newcomers more desirable than locals (Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute, 2017). Meanwhile, newcomers’ willingness to continue living in a small community is significantly determined by the “welcome-ability” of the locals whom they are innocently competing with.


Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute. (2017). Rural Workforce Development: Challenges and Strategies in the Mining Sector. Castlegar, BC: Selkirk College. Retrieved from

Esses, V., & Carter, C. (2019). Beyond the big city: How small communities across Canada can attract and retain newcomers. Ottawa: Public Policy Forum.

Giguère, S. (2008). A Broader Agenda for Workforce Development. In More than Just Jobs: Workforce Development in a Skills-Based Economy (pp.

1-52). Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Public Policy Forum. (2019). Mill town’s struggle reveals rural areas’ unique immigration challenges. Retrieved 02 10, 2020, from

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, organization, committee, funding agency or other group or individual.

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