“We are entering into a boom time in this city,” says Barrie mayor Jeff Lehman

Building permits and housing starts have increased, the jobless rate has declined

Mayor Jeff Lehman was upbeat this morning when he spoke to Barrie’s business leaders about the state of the city

“So the message I want to bring to you first and foremost today is that we are entering into a boom time in this city.”

A boom time…in a pandemic?

“Our community has been moving forward and, in many ways, is now moving forward faster than it was at the beginning of COVID or pre COVID,” said Lehman at his virtual Business Progress Breakfast.

Lehman noted the value of building permits issued in the city will reach into record territory this year, more than $350 million. There are three major projects underway in the core, he says, that will transform the downtown.

Housing starts rose from 498 three years ago to 570, pre-pandemic, in 2019. “We’re going to break 1000, in fact, we’ve already broken 1000 new housing starts in 2021…we haven’t been over 1000 new housing starts in Barrie for 15 years.” And it’s a broader range of building types, including apartments.

The jobless rate, which began the year at around 14 per cent, is below five per cent, and it’s not just retail jobs that helped, as comments on social media would have us believe. The majority have been in the administrative, health care, and professional/technical sectors.

There have been more than 52 new businesses openings and ribbon cuttings in the past year. Businesses have been reinventing themselves, restaurants have opened. Childcare, health care, and tattoo shops are a diverse group of businesses coming on board, which speaks to the city’s changing culture and changing diversity.

Lehman says he can’t help but be positive as we head into 2022. Look what we have been able to do, he says, despite the global pandemic.

Still, he says, there are issues that cannot be easily dealt with, homelessness, for instance, “This is an area where I can’t report to you the progress that I had hoped to by today. We know that supportive housing like Lucy’s place in Barrie, where people are housed, it gets them off the street and gives them the services they need to address the root causes of homelessness. This comes at a far, far lower cost than alternatives such as shelters, jails, hospitals.”

Lehman says the city needs a major investment in supportive housing in Barrie, that we need that to come from the federal and provincial governments.

Addictions and mental health remain issues.

The city also needs childcare, “We need a childcare deal in Ontario. We’re the only province left without a deal with the federal government and the high cost of childcare is keeping people out of the labour market.

Lehman closed his address reminding everyone of the importance of shopping local, “You know, we all make choices as we spend money as businesses and individuals. Choosing to spend it on a local business is one of the very best things you can do to help the economic recovery, and especially in those sectors that continue to face challenges associated with COVID. Together as a community, we managed our way through the pandemic of these most difficult times. And we’re now coming out with a booming economy with renewed strength and with a renewed opportunity to invest in our people, and invest in our economy and invest in moving our city forward.”