Alberta town of 3,800 joins pilot immigration program, gets 4,600 applicants

An Alberta town struggling to fill entry-level jobs now has an avalanche of applications to go through from around the world after being selected for a federal immigration employment pilot project. 

In fact, the response has led to applications from 4,600 people, for the town of 3,800.

But Claresholm’s economic development officer says, the bar is pretty high.

“There is a series of federal criteria: language tests, education, settlement funds in the bank and work experience,” Brady Schnell told the Calgary Eyeopener.

In fact, of those 4,600 people from 70 countries that set up profiles on the town’s website, the panel is looking for about 20 people and their families in the first year of the three-year pilot project.

Brady Schnell is the economic development officer for the Town of Claresholm, which is 120 kilometres south of Calgary. (Submitted by Brady Schnell)

The plan is to hire more than 20 in each of the two final years of the program, called the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.

Claresholm — which is on Highway 2 roughly halfway between Calgary and Lethbridge — is one of only 11 communities chosen of the 55 that applied, and it’s the only one in Alberta.

“We are not experiencing a population decline, but we’ve had a long history of labour challenges,” Schnell said.

That’s the top challenge employers face especially when trying to find bodies for entry-level jobs like working at a coffee shop or food production plant.

El Molino Foods of Canada Ltd. is based in Claresholm, Alta. (Submitted by Joe Dippolito)

And food production plant El Molino is champing at the bit.

“This will help us greatly,” said partner Joe Dippolito.

He says El Molino has everything ready to go, including a lineup of customers wanting its products. That’s everything except production line workers.

“It creates a lot of overtime for the people that are here. It stops us from going after more business because I don’t have people to produce it. We have already turned down business out there because I don’t have enough people to run it.”

El Molino’s customers are mostly grocery store retailers.

Dippolito says a couple of town council meetings on the pilot project drew support from businesses eager to hire, but also critics.

“You have people oppose to it, saying ‘there are people here looking for work.’ Yes, but they are not looking for this kind of work,” Dippolito said.

“Politicians say with the oilpatch drying up we have lots of welders, electricians and plumbers out of work. But they are not going to move to a small town like Claresholm to roll cabbage rolls.”

The town’s location, about an hour northwest of Lethbridge and 90 minutes south of Calgary, doesn’t help people from larger centres wanting to commute.

The 2018 Feast of Claresholm, an outdoor farm-to-table dinner. (Submitted by Brady Schnell)

And those larger cities, Schnell adds, could also threaten the long-term success of the pilot project, if after a new Canadian receives permanent residency they decide to move to a bigger centre.

“That’s the big challenge,” Schnell said of retention.

Schnell notes the political landscape in the province is tense right now.

A group of Wexiters — a small political movement interested in pushing Alberta to leave Canada — showed up at a town hall meeting in January.

But the locals shut them down.

“I was pleased to see the community responded and said, ‘Listen guys, that’s not what we are here to talk about,'” Schnell said.

“Alberta has a really heated political landscape. There are a lot of conversations going on but the more people understand the program, the filters and systems in place, they start to warm up to the idea that this could be really good for Claresholm.”

Why people from around the world want to move to Claresholm, Alberta. 10:32

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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