Small startup businesses filling local job void

Sarnia’s economy is beginning to regain traction, with the number of businesses operating in the region growing by more than 1,000 between 2009 and 2014, according to a new report.

The new gains were primarily among very small businesses, while job losses occurred among larger employers, the Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board study found.

Owner-owned businesses with zero employees grew 22% over the five-year period, while the number of companies employing 200 to 499 workers fell by almost 29%, according to Statistics Canada figures.

Shauna Carr, executive director of the SLWDB, said the growth among small businesses is an indicator of success because they are more likely “to stay in the local area, as the decision-makers are located here and invested in our community.”

She added the drop-off in larger companies recorded by StatsCan doesn’t mean they pulled out of the region altogether.

“It could mean a reduction in workforce which would place the employer in a different category,” Carr said.

The report also shows a steady decline in the region’s unemployment rate, from nearly 12 per cent in 2012 to an average of 8.8 per cent in the early months of 2014.

Those figures, though, might be mostly attributable to Sarnia-Lambton’s shrinking labour force, with the county’s population slipping from 128,204 in 2006 to 126,200 in 2011.

Most of the outmigration can be attributed to young adults.

About 2,400 adults aged 18 to 44 left Sarnia-Lambton between 2007 and 2012, a steady decline only partially balanced by gains in migration, according to statistics cited in the Local Labour Market Plan.

Bleak employment prospects appear to be the motivating factor, as young workers comprise a disproportionate share of Sarnia-Lambton’s jobless.

Among all unemployed persons in 2011 about 40% were between the ages of 15 and 24 years, and 35% were between 25 and 44 years, according to Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey.

Education, Carr stressed, plays a major role in increasing opportunities for jobseekers.

“With regard to Sarnia-Lambton’s labour market supply, one primary finding is low educational attainment in the general population. About 50% have, at most, a high school diploma,” she noted. “Education and training beyond high school enhance employment prospects.”