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Hamilton Economic Development

Young ‘ex-pats’ worth luring back home, conference attendees told

Municipal leaders should stop trying to bait or bribe youth who want to leave town, says a University of Waterloo researcher.

Let them go because if you can lure them back, they will be more successful, Michelle Madden urged attendees at the Economic Developers Council of Ontario annual conference Thursday.

“The best approach is to graciously let them leave and then work on attracting them back,” said Madden, outreach manager in the university’s economic development program.

She said research shows those who return to their hometown after being educated or getting work experience elsewhere own a higher percentage of businesses and employ more people than those who stayed. Those who work for others achieved higher levels of success, too.

“So embrace youth out-migration,” said Madden. “If you bring ex-pats home, it will be good for your community.”

She highlighted efforts by Chatham-Kent and Toronto to bring young ex-pats home that included directly linking them with employers, and videos highlighting the stories of those who returned.

Andre Robichaud says he vowed never to return to his hometown of Kapuskasing when he left at 18. Now he’s an economic development officer there, working to bring young people back to the northern Ontario town.

Hits to the forestry- and mining-based economy of the town of 8,000 meant youth fled at the highest rate ever through the 1990s and into the 2000s. The town developed a strategy in 2006 that focused on Kapuskasing’s quality of life and cost of living.

This is a town where the average commute is 8.5 minutes and a “very nice house” can be bought for $97,000, says Robichaud.

Town staff connected with local employers, built a database of youth, issued newsletter highlighting local opportunities and even brought Kapuskasing natives back for weekends of wining and dining.

Michael Marini, director of marketing for Hamilton’s economic development department, says this city is already well positioned as a place of opportunity for young people. That is now translating into new businesses and real estate investment.

“We’re now in a very exciting phase of activity,” he said.

The theme of youth carried into the last keynote address of the conference, held at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

Marketing expert and youth culture researcher Max Valiquette said the most powerful youth (18- to 34-year-old) cohort ever is defined by the constant connectivity of social networking, the postponement of adult milestones, such as post-secondary graduation, marriage and children, and a cultural fixation on the style and behaviour of youth.

He said workplaces have to engage this group through optimism and encouraging their ideas and entrepreneurial spirits. But setting clear workplace expectations is crucial.

“This group may come across as fundamentally disrespectful. They aren’t. They’ve just had a huge voice throughout their life.”

Article courtesy of Meredith MacLeod, The Hamilton Spectator.

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