Kitchener-Waterloo·TRANSFORMATION

Here's how Stratford, Ont. aims to attract a younger population

Stratford has a noticibly older population than its neighbour cities of London and Kitchener. So the city is trying to attract and retain a younger demographic. Here's how they're doing it.

Mayor is making a pitch for young people to stay in the community

Stratford is known for its theatre production and park spaces. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Stratford is a city with renowned theatre productions and beautiful parks, but unfortunately the community is struggling to attract and retain a younger demographic, the city's mayor says.

On Wednesday Dan Mathieson, Stratford's mayor, made a pitch to young people who are thinking of living, staying or moving to the city.

"There's an abundance of opportunities. It's a high quality of life. It has the highest parkland per capita of anywhere in the country," he said on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's Morning Edition.

"We have great cultural institutions and opportunities. You are 40 minutes out of K-W and London. You're close to the action, if you need it. And if you really got to get to Toronto, we're an hour and a half away," Mathieson said. 

"It's a great place to lay roots and start a family." 

Not enough jobs 

Mathieson said because small cities like Stratford are "hollowing out" when it comes to jobs and services such as transportation, specialized health care and social activities, young people are not inclined to stay.

Dan Mathieson is the mayor of Stratford. He has been a part of the city's municipal council since 1995. (Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce)

"As we see regionalization of government services and opportunity, we see them move out of smaller towns," he said.  

"They'd say: 'Why would I stay here, what are the opportunities for me at my current earning potential, age' and also, 'what is it going to be like for my kids?'"  

"We have lots of quality of life," he said, referring to the city's chef school, theatre and parks. "But at the end, we have to make sure we have opportunity for young people and their family in the long-term." 

Stabilizing taxes 

According to Statistics Canada, the median age for Stratford is 45, while in Kitchener-Waterloo, it's 38, and in London, Ont. it's 40. 

Mathieson said a majority of Stratford's tax base is supported by manufacturing companies and it's not sustainable to have the cost of services fall strictly on residential taxpayers, which would drive up the cost of living. 

"That of course... exacerbates your problem because young people don't have the ability to pay those taxes and then they look elsewhere," he said. 

"You need to stop the cycle and start getting younger people in, it'll help job growth and commercial and industrial taxes,  and therefore help your tax base stabilize," said Mathieson. 

University part of the solution 

In 2012, the city partnered with the University of Waterloo to create the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, which grew from 20 to 600 students enrolled. 

International students make up a third of the program, Mathieson said, which gives the city a broader immigration population.

Kalil Magtoto is a second year student enrolled in the Global Business and Digital Arts Program (Facebook: Kalil Magnoto, taken by Syed Ali Raza. )

"It allows us to have younger families and see a diversity we're not use to, and gives them the idea to settle and start a business here," he said. 

"All those things make a thriving community."  

Kalil Magtoto, a second year student attending the school from Thailand, said the city is "transitioning well" into the "next hub that caters to young people."     

"The youth there is not big right now, I think we all know that," he said. "But it's coming, that's what everybody agrees with." 

The Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business. (University of Waterloo)

Magtoto said with the university expanding, more public transportation and businesses coming in, Stratford is slowly turning into a city his peers want to live in. 

"Personally if I was to recommend something else, it's just to do more of what it's doing but at a faster rate," he said. 

"It's a difficult and expensive ask, but imagine if it was to introduce more of a night life, more housing for students and businesses catering to a younger audience."