Thursday, June 18, 2009

Newfoundland in Youngstown

Newfoundland has its own time zone, one half hour off of the rest of Canada. I don't know if it is true or not, but a Newfie once told me that the butter in his home province must be yellow, by law. My point being that Newfoundland is VERY parochial, much like the Steel Valley. I think both regions can learn from each other. A good example is Canadian labor migration:

But in Alberta, where many Newfoundlanders came to find lucrative oil patch jobs, the Hibernia expansion provides only a fleeting opportunity for work - not nearly enough to persuade the island's diaspora to sell homes, uproot families and return home. Contrast that with Alberta, which yesterday saw the first flash of an expected reawakening of the oil sands - which could provide tens of thousands of jobs for a decade - as Connacher Oil and Gas Ltd. reinvigorated a small, stalled oil sands project.

That certainty is what's keeping Sean Wyatt in Alberta. Experience has taught him that the promise of returning home for a single project can easily be distorted into disappointment. Originally from St. John's, he left in 2001 to find work in Texas. Two years later, he returned to Newfoundland for a design job with Husky Energy's White Rose offshore field.

It was nice to be home, but that job lasted less than two years. Soon, he found himself chasing mainland work again. He moved to Calgary in 2005. He misses Newfoundland, and wishes he could be near his parents, who are in their 70s. But Hibernia South, which is promising few new jobs, isn't enough to pull him back.

The pull of home is strong and folks from Newfoundland tend to carry their identity with them better than others. Despite the skepticism, in-migration to the chronically struggling province is on the upswing. But this isn't a tide of newcomers, but one of natives boomeranging back. Newfoundland isn't for the faint of heart.

A few of us Rust Belt boosters see something similar going on in Youngstown. Apropos of Atlantic Canada, energy would seem to be the silver lining calling home expatriates. However, I can only blog about the handwriting I see on the wall. It will take something much stronger to lure skeptical expatriates back to the area.

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