The Township of White River, located 315 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, is enjoying an economic boom. According to the 2016 Census, the community’s official population is 645; however, transient and contract workers have pushed that number closer to 2000. The recent influx of workers is primarily due to the opening of the local sawmill (now called White River Forest Products) in 2013 after the White River Economic Development Corporation, Pic Mobert First Nation and private investors formed a partnership to purchase the shuttered mill. The result is a state-of-the-art sawmill that employs 160 people and supports the jobs of an additional 250 in the region.
Growth in the region’s forestry and mining sector has brought some new challenges. A survey of community residents conducted by the township in 2016 identified healthcare and housing as the respondents’ top two priorities.
“You can’t attract people to a community without basic amenities, such as healthcare,” states Sherrie Perron, Economic Development Officer for White River. “If we want to attract and retain skilled labour, we have to address these strategic priorities.”
The Township of White River hired Perron through FedNor’s Community Investment Initiative for Northern Ontario, which provides $256,500 over three years, to help address economic and business development needs and opportunities as outlined in its strategic plan. To that end, White River and neighbouring Pic Mobert First Nation signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2017 and formalized an existing working relationship to find alternative ways to provide health care to their respective communities. In May 2018, the two communities received provincial funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for their “Northern Neighbours” initiative to establish a new Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic (NPLC).
Designed to provide people in White River and Pic Mobert with interdisciplinary primary care services, access to nurse practitioners, a registered nurse, and a social worker, the clinic will address a broad range of healthcare needs, including mental health and chronic disease management. In all, six people will operate the clinics. As of July 11, 2019, the Northern Neighbours NPLC had filled five positions and was actively seeking a second nurse practitioner. The clinic will celebrate its official grand opening in September 2019.
Reminiscent of the well-known quote from the movie, Field of Dreams, Perron says, “If you build it, they will come.” Perron is referring to a pharmacist who is negotiating to set up shop in town with the advent of the clinic. She adds that the clinic is the catalyst they needed to start the ball rolling.
Perron is also working with a developer who has purchased two duplexes and is considering a third. He plans to convert them into apartments (four per duplex) that will help address the housing shortage in the community. The White River Community Development Corporation is also promoting continued expansion of new home buildings by making up to 10 lots available for new home construction.
“We’ve teamed up with mining and forestry industries that are having difficulty luring employees to the north,” explains Angelo Bazzoni, Mayor of White River. “We’ve developed an incentive whereby the township is providing building lots while mining companies are offering up to $15,000 in the form of a second mortgage to help entice prospective employees to make the move.”
The goal, according Chief Administrative Officer Tina Forsyth is to attract workers, as well as their spouses and children.
“Many employees work seven days on, followed by seven off,” states Forsyth. “If they move here with their families, then they would be more likely to stay in the community during their down time, spending money here, and bolstering school enrolment and attendance at community events or recreational activities.”
Both Mayor Bazzoni and Forsyth agree that there is a definite sense of renewed optimism in the community and they credit FedNor for assisting with the turnaround.
“This community investment is very important for us because we do not have a lot of available funding,” affirms Forsyth. “We’re on an economic upswing and we really needed help in welcoming new business and people to the community. We are trying to put it to the best use to maximize its benefits to prepare for and accommodate growth.”
This project is another example of the types of initiatives funded by FedNor in support of the Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario (PGSNO). Learn more about PGSNO.