Timber Published Sep 11, 2023  •  3 minute read

Response to growth: the construction site for the new North Shore Public School in Tecumseh is shown on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor StarThe Windsor area continued to enjoy a surge in population growth last month based on Statistics Canada’s latest labour force survey released Friday.

For the second consecutive month, the region saw 1,000 new residents settle in the Windsor census metropolitan area (CMA). Since April, 4,400 new residents have set down roots in the area, surpassing the 4,000 total for all of 2022.

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The Windsor CMA includes Lakeshore, Tecumseh, LaSalle and Amherstburg.

“I think affordability remains the driver for people, family reunifications of people moving back from Toronto,” said Workforce WindsorEssex CEO Justin Falconer.

“I know Windsorites are feeling the pinch, but if you live outside of Windsor and come here, it feels different.

“There’s also excitement here about the battery plant, proximity to the U.S. and all the other investments.”

The Windsor CMA’s population is now 316,500, an increase of 17,100 since July 2020.

Falconer added the new businesses that are locating here are also drawing people who are currently on staff or they are hiring new staff not all of whom are already located in the area.

“Business development is the other major driver of our population growth,” said Falconer, who added the growth also helps spread out the cost of municipal services.

The population surge is now showing up in local schools.

The public and Catholic school boards, who had been facing declining enrolments, school closures and consolidations in years past, are now in a growth mode.

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Greater Essex County District School Board public relations officer Scott Scantlebury said the public system, as of Aug. 25, was up 1,000 students, and still counting, over its low watermark of 35,390 in 2016-17. Compared to the end of June, enrolment has risen 330 students, to over 36,000.

“We’ve been building new schools mostly to replace older ones, but soon we’re going to need schools in areas where the population is growing,” Scantlebury said.

He noted the North Shore elementary school in Tecumseh and the elementary school near Rourke Line and County Road 22 in Lakeshore were both needed to take pressure off the growing enrolments of existing schools.

Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board communications coordinator Stephen Fields reported that, as of Friday, the board’s enrolment was up 874 students over Sept. 2022.

The elementary and secondary school enrolment currently stands at 22,044. There are also more than 1,000 people enrolled in the St. Michael’s Adult Education Program.

“This is the first time we’ve had over 14,000 elementary students since 2010,” said Fields after the board added 626 elementary students this fall.

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“There are a lot of newcomers but there are also a lot of people migrating to the region. We’re getting calls from Vancouver and other places out west about coming to school here.”

The construction site for the new North Shore Public School in Tecumseh is shown on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor StarWindsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Rakesh Naidu said the population growth confirms the Windsor area’s image and profile are undergoing a positive change.

“There definitely has been a huge shift from the time when we were lagging other regions with higher unemployment rates,” Naidu said. “We were more associated with negative news, job losses and closures.

“It’s been a huge change to a positive outlook of new development, investments, affordability and quality of life.”

Naidu said despite the rapidly growing population, the local economy is absorbing the newcomers without seeing a large spike in unemployment figures.

August’s unemployment rate rose .2 points to 5.8 per cent, which remains below the Ontario rate of 5.9 per cent while the national unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.5 per cent.

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The available workforce grew by 1,200 to 202,200 while the number of people employed rose by 600, to 190,300. There were 25,000 more people employed last month than in August 2022.

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“There definitely is a need for a lot of people and different skill sets,” Naidu said. “There’s room for us to absorb even more.

“There’s been concern we may not have enough of the people we need. The population growth reduces some of that stress.”

Naidu expects local population growth to accelerate in the next 12 to 18 months as companies begin to hire the thousands of employees needed to serve the electric vehicle and battery industries.

“We have to solve some issues on the housing side and on the mass transportation side,” Naidu said. “If we work to improve these two aspects, we’ll be more attractive to even more people.”

Dwaddell@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/winstarwaddell

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