Halifax Index: A close-up on the ‘people factor’

July 9, 2015

Population expansion is crucial to the future success of Halifax, Nova Scotia. With this in mind, the government, post-secondary institutes of education and the private sector need to focus on retaining local and international students, as well as welcoming more immigrants.

According to the latest edition of the Halifax Partnership's Halifax Index, released in June, students who come to Nova Scotia from elsewhere in Canada or other parts of the world help buoy Halifax's population, as well as that of the province as a whole. In fact, enrollment at Halifax-area universities reached an unprecedented peak during the 2013-2014 academic year, thanks in large part to international students, who composed nearly one-fifth (17 per cent) of signups.

"Nova Scotians are most likely to head to other provinces
in their 20s."

The problem of emigration

That being said, the population growth resulting from immigration is being tempered by young Haligonians and Nova Scotians leaving the province. The report revealed that Nova Scotians are most likely to emigrate to other provinces in their 20s – in short, they are taking the investment that the province makes in their education and bringing their expertise elsewhere, with Nova Scotia losing out as a result. Moreover, these individuals pay taxes and spend their after-tax earnings in other provinces as well, meaning this money is not injected back into the Nova Scotian economy.

"Eliminating net youth out-migration would double Nova Scotia's GDP growth rate and make us the fastest growing province in Canada," wrote Fred Morley, executive vice president and chief economist at the Halifax Partnership, in an opinion piece for The Chronicle Herald. "Solve youth retention and you solve our economic growth problem."

Working toward youth retention success

While there is still much to be done with regard to bolstering youth retention, some positive steps have been made. As listed by Morley, these include:

  • Dalhousie University's Starting Lean Initiative and 100K Competition, which encourage student entrepreneurship and help fund startups 
  • An increased focus on hiring new grads and gaining a younger perspective, seen at companies such as ADP, EY and RBC 
  • The provincial government's Graduate to Opportunity program, which financially incentivizes bringing aboard recent graduates in the form of a two-year wage subsidy, and the START program, which centres on apprenticeships

Getting younger individuals into the labour force is especially important given the fact that more and more baby boomers are exiting the workforce - a phenomenon that is by no means unique to Halifax and the rest of Nova Scotia.

What's the bottom line?

According to the Index, investing time and money into boosting municipal and provincial population numbers is critical. It will take a while for the benefits to be fully realized, but efforts such as those outlined above are already beginning to have a positive effect. To put it simply, taking steps to boost both retention and immigration will lead to a more economically sound future for Halifax, as well as Nova Scotia as a whole.

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Halifax business news brought to you by the Halifax Partnership, Halifax's
economic development organization.