Hamilton needs to do a better job at attracting skilled immigrants, a local researcher says. In fact, our livelihood depends on it.

Sarah Wayland is working with the city to establish an immigrant attraction plan, an effort that could result in a number of new services to draw newcomers. Immigrants account for about a quarter of Hamilton's population, Wayland says. But they're getting older, and we need to attract new faces with fresh skills.

"Immigration should be seen not only through a community service lens, but also an economic development lens," Wayland told the city's general issues committee Wednesday.

Wayland made the comments while presenting Immigrant Attraction to Hamilton, a work plan to attract new immigrants to the city. About 25 per cent of Hamilton residents — or 132,000 — are immigrants, Wayland said. But 40 per cent of those people arrived prior to 1971.

As many as 4,000 immigrants arrive in Hamilton each year, Wayland said. But Hamilton has to step up its efforts to attract immigrants or risk being left behind.

Councillors agreed. The committee endorsed Wayland's action plan on Wednesday, and voted to look for more money to fund it in September.

The plan includes possibilities such as a marketing strategy touting the benefits of Hamilton abroad, and a portal that would be a first stop for information for newcomers.

The Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration has provided $110,000 for the city's new immigrant attraction plan. But more will be needed to roll out the ideas contained in the action plan, Wayland said.

Ideas include:

  • A Welcoming Hamilton campaign to promote immigrants as economic, cultural and social assets to Hamilton. This could include a "welcome home" mass marketing campaign with billboards, websites and media outreach.
  • A secondary migration attraction program that appeals to Hamiltonians who have moved away, or immigrant groups in the Greater Toronto Area who may be lured by lower housing and business start-up costs.
  • A strengthening neighbourhoods strategy that could include incubators or self employment business training to encourage entrepreneurs to branch out to underserved markets in neighbourhoods in need of revitalization.
  • An expanded "Open for Business" strategy that provides a one-stop shop for prospective business owners.

The city also needs to do more to reach out to international students attending school in Hamilton who mainly exist in a "bubble" while here and move away upon graduation, Wayland said.

"We must reach these students long before graduation."

The first step will be meetings this summer with various immigrant groups to get their input on various aspects of the plan, Wayland said. It will also focus on improving the immigration attraction portal at hamilton.ca/connect to include more resources, such as possible job listings.

Coun. Brian McHattie liked the plan, and moved for the city to look for more money for it.

"What I really like about it is that it's really clear as to what its goals are," said McHattie, who represents Ward 1 in the west end.

The potential for the plan is "staggering," said Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9 in Stoney Creek.

"I think this is an extraordinary exercise for Hamilton and a really good growing experience."

Wayland's report was also referred to the city's open for business subcommittee.