Strong population growth forecast for southwestern Ontario

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The provincial government predicts that Ontario’s population will increase by 5.3 million people by 2046, one of the fastest growing to come from southwestern Ontario.

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The population of Essex County could increase by nearly 35% by then, according to a Department of Finance report released over the weekend, with Middlesex and Oxford counties set to see their populations increase by 37.5 and 41.5%, respectively.

“These are staggering numbers,” said Frazier Fathers, a data researcher who runs a local consulting firm.

“These are forecasts with some built-in assumptions, but projecting 30 years of growth in a region is a lot.”

Chatham-Kent and Lambton counties will experience growth of 4.8 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Of the 5.3 million people growing in Ontario, the province expects more than 55% of that growth to come from the Greater Toronto Area, which is expected to reach 10 million people.

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The good thing is that the forecast indicates that the number of young people continues to grow.

The Fathers said it was particularly impressive that the Windsor area grew from about 410,000 to 550,000, given the regional population decline following the 2008-2009 recession.

“The good thing is that the forecasts indicate that the number of young people continues to grow,” Fathers said. “It will not be just all seniors and retirees who are behind these numbers. The growth of seniors is partly due to the fact that people are living longer and moving from one age group to another.

Workforce WindsorEssex executive director Justin Falconer said he was not surprised that the wave of migration from the Greater Toronto Area is reaching Middlesex and Oxford counties.

Falconer noted that Oxford County – roughly halfway between London and Hamilton – is benefiting from the migration of the GTA and young families from London in search of affordable housing.

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“People are looking for housing and they need to drive further, especially those in their 30s with children under the age of four,” Falconer said.

“Oxford has green spaces and can be selective in development. If you’re trying to get out of the GTA and find a respite from house prices and commuting, this area is ideal.

According to the ministry’s forecasts, 86 percent of Ontario’s population growth will come from immigration and 14 percent from births in the province.

The federal government has set a target of 401,000 newcomers for 2021 and will add 10,000 people to that number in each of the next two years.

“The federal government has increased its immigration targets, which has worked in the Windsor region’s favor as we are traditionally a fairly diverse region,” said Fathers.

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“They are also adding new avenues for international students to stay in Canada after graduation. The increase in the number of international students at our local post-secondary institutions and these changes are important factors in these numbers.

The Fathers said future local population growth would be more diverse and concentrated in places around Essex County that may not be as diverse as the city of Windsor.

If the province’s forecast turned out to be nearly accurate, he said such volumes and sustained growth require planning now.

“The biggest challenge for municipalities will be housing,” Fathers said. “That’s a lot of houses to build and supporting infrastructure.

“We are already facing a housing crisis. (University of Western Ontario economist) Mike Moffatt said Ontario has built 100,000 fewer homes than it needs in the past four years.

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It will take the public and private sectors to work together to rebalance the supply and demand equation in the housing market, Fathers said. Until then, prices will continue to rise and it will be increasingly difficult for many to access the real estate ladder.

As a solution, Fathers said he expects to see more second homes or “grandma suites” on existing residential properties.

“I also think we are seeing the completion of the boomerang effect of energy workers who have left Windsor to go west and return home,” Falconer said.

“We had good economic numbers before COVID arrived – a record number of people employed in May 2018. Our geography, border, weather and attractiveness to families remain selling points.”

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Invest WindsorEssex CEO Stephen Mackenzie said he was more comfortable with short-term forecasts, but acknowledged that the prognosis is much more bullish for the region than in the past.

“It creates a loop of sustainability,” Mackenzie said. “In recruiting companies, it’s cost, quality, and the manpower available.

“Population growth represents the supply of labor and talent to businesses. It is the fuel for the engine of economic development.

The improved outlook is the recognition that greater local coordination and strong economic strategies are paying off, Mackenzie said.

With a more diverse population and more people, there will be new opportunities for new businesses and services.

“Either you grow up or you die,” Mackenzie said. “There is no status quo on the ground when it comes to economic development.

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