Nfld. & Labrador

Cheap homes and coastal views might draw remote workers to N.L. — but will it keep them?

Newfoundland and Labrador is riding a COVID-induced remote working wave with a new ad campaign targeting condo-dwellers across Canada. But one economist says flashy marketing alone probably won't cut it.

$100K ad campaign targets white-collar workers seeking COVID-free, affordable living

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is making good on its promise to launch a remote work marketing campaign, but one expert says it needs to get a handle on the basics, like family doctors and internet connectivity, first. (Barrett & MacKay/Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism)

Newfoundland and Labrador wants you — and your laptop, and your home office — to move to the province for the long term.

A national ad launched in the Globe and Mail on Saturday reveals a sun-soaked coastline and a jagged sea tower rising off the Chance Cove trail, asking readers to rate, in contrast, how happy they are working from their own kitchen table.

Immigration, Population Growth and Skills Minister Gerry Byrne said Tuesday the $100,000 marketing campaign targets a white-collar demographic, the type of person now working in isolation out of their condo in Toronto or Vancouver, flushed out of office spaces by COVID-19.

Byrne is betting they won't return to the office any time soon.

"What the evidence does suggest is that this change in the workplace, this move to remote working, is a permanent change," Byrne told reporters this week.

"We have a real competitive advantage … and we want to make sure that we're driving that message home to attract that remote workforce."

This one-page spread is the start of the Tourism Department's marketing push to draw remote workers to the province. (Gerry Byrne/Twitter)

Byrne clarified his department is looking specifically for other Canadians and permanent residents — people who might be tired of high COVID-19 infection rates, closed amenities and unaffordable housing plaguing other parts of the country.

The ad, he says, plants the idea of moving in their heads. "You have to get the message out … and to encourage people while they look at their current circumstance, their current situation [to ask] is there a better way?" he said.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is ranking incredibly high on that scale."

Natural disadvantages

Tony Fang, an economist at Memorial University who studies immigration and labour, agrees with Byrne, for the most part.

Fang, reached by phone in St. John's, says the province scores high overall in the top reasons someone moves between provinces: namely, community safety, friendliness and affordable housing.

Memorial University economist Tony Fang applauds the provincial government for ads enticing remote workers to come to N.L. but says their effectiveness depend on the creation of a robust retention program. (Memorial University)

In Newfoundland and Labrador, you can buy three houses for the price of one in Toronto, Fang points out. "You can enjoy a high standard of living by getting the Toronto salary, or the Vancouver salary, but living a better life in St. John's or Corner Brook."

Newcomers would have more space, more disposable income, and access to coastal views, he says — and, by bringing their jobs with them, Newfoundland and Labrador's scant employment offerings may not drive immigrants away.

"It's a smart move," he said, on government's part.

But with Nova Scotia's own remote work campaign in full swing, Fang says, Newfoundland and Labrador must up the ante to overcome its less developed infrastructure and distance from the mainland.

The data shows about half of all immigrants to the province leave after five years. Their top complaints? Lack of jobs — which Fang believes may turn away the spouses and kids of remote workers — and the inability to break into Newfoundland and Labrador's tight-knit communities, finding friendship and acceptance.

That's where an ad campaign falls flat, he said.

"To keep them in the long run … government [needs to] provide comprehensive support to the remote workers.

"The concern is that when the pandemic is over, some of them may have to move back to Toronto or Vancouver, because they miss the big-box shopping, the urban excitement.… We have to make them feel this is more like a home."

Fang said the Liberal government has set an ambitious immigration target in attempting to triple the number of new residents setting down roots in the coming years. But without fostering a sense of belonging, increasing access to family doctors and expanding cultural activities before newcomers arrive, he said, the campaign could flop. 

"First impressions are always important," he said.

"It's important we view it as a kind of package.… It's a great idea, but would it work in the long run?"

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