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Chamber CEO Karen Cross Addresses Business Community and Outlines Priorities for 2023

Thanks to all who joined us at our State of the City, and a special thanks to our title sponsor Bell Canada, and partner sponsors RBC and St. Lawrence College.

I’m Karen Cross, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce. I’m pleased to welcome you to our 2023 State of the City address which is made possible by Title Sponsor, Bell Canada and Partner Sponsors, RBC Royal Bank of Canada, and St. Lawrence College. Thank you for your continued support!

This annual event unites our business and political communities for a few key purposes. One of those purposes is the swearing in of our new board chair, Nancy Cardinal of DigiGraphics.

The other is to hear from our Member of Parliament, Mark Gerretsen; our Member of Provincial Parliament, Ted Hsu; and our Mayor, Bryan Paterson on their thoughts for the year ahead. There will also be an opportunity for questions following their remarks.

Prior to these exciting presentations, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the priorities we’ve been hearing about from Chamber members and how we’ll be advancing those priorities this year.

So, what topics have our members identified as their top priorities?

The first is workforce development – ensuring we have the right people and training locally to ensure business can continue and succeed. For instance, our lack of skilled trades workers is impacting our city’s ability to grow. Our lack of healthcare workers is contributing to excessive strain on our fragile medical system, our health, and our ability to attract and retain workers and families.

For other industries like hospitality and tourism, which are critical to Kingston’s economy, there’s a long road to recovery from the pandemic’s impacts, and the inability of these businesses to attract and retain the workers they need is harming our city’s ability to rebuild and grow.

But why are our restaurants, hotels, and the like having such difficulty in recruiting? It ties into our second priority: housing. The tight local supply of housing coupled with the high cost of living is pushing many workers out of our city and out of industries like hospitality and tourism, manufacturing, and retail.

These issues go beyond Kingston, and yet we must still seek out local solutions. This could include creating a greater diversity and availability of housing options, offering more below-market-rent housing, or easing the financial pressure on business owners so they can afford to provide more attractive compensation.

Our third priority I’ve already alluded to – it’s our lack of family doctors. Many Kingstonians report being on waitlists for years without finding a family physician, and some have kept their former doctors in previous hometowns for fear of not finding a doctor locally. This is once again not unique to Kingston, as even larger cities are struggling with a doctor shortage.

There are local efforts underway to address the shortage, and the Chamber will continue to participate and support these initiatives.

The growth of our community is essential to business and investors. Our federal government is forecasting that, within the next decade, our country will have two working people for every retired person – a ratio that used to be more like seven to one only a few decades ago.

This demographic reality means our country will rely more heavily on immigration than ever before to ensure jobs remain filled and we can sustain the public services our aging population will need.

Immigration is essential to our continued functioning as a community and as a country. So that means we must be ready to welcome the world to Kingston. That means housing. It means jobs and training. It means the right community services, including medical services.

Stay tuned to Your Chamber as we’ll soon be launching a report card where we monitor and report on how our local officials are voting and acting to address these challenges. We’ll look forward to bringing you an update on that in the near future.

We look forward to hearing what our elected officials have in mind to address these challenges, and the other challenges they see from their unique vantage point.

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