THUNDER BAY -- The Thunder Bay District will need to attract 50,000 more people in the next 25 years to sustain its economy.
According to the North Superior Workforce Planning Board, the district's aging population is expected to decline until 2041. It projects that for every 100 working people in 2041, another 80 will not be of working age.
The board's executive director Madge Richardson said that dependency ratio would mean entirely restructuing the local economy.
"It's not going to look anything like what we have now. There's going to be more people not working than there are that are actually producing new products and services," Richardson said.
"That means over the next 25 years, we're going to have to attract a new 2,000 people every year to maintain the population, to maintain the economy we have now. It's a huge eye-opener."
The 50,000 regional immigrants needed would be in addition to maintaining current birth and immigration rates.
Richardson claimed unless governments at all levels begin planning for that need now, small communities in Greenstone and Lake Superior's North Shore will hollow out while Thunder Bay's economy will teeter under the weight of its aging population.
Her warning comes in the midst of a refugee crisis as millions flee the Syrian civil war into Europe. While Richardson sees potential for cooperation among the district's municipal governments, she said only an inter-governmental and civil society effort will be able to address the forecasted need.
"If there are any changes in policy that could impact the Nominee Program, perhaps something specific for Northwestern Ontario, that would affect it," she said.
"If municipal councils and mayors are concerned about their populations now and they want to keep those towns, they're going to need to attract people. How many churches will respond to the Pope's encouragement? There's people who want to move from their community to another. Why not Northwestern Ontario?"