Battle for talent a civil war

From tax breaks to billboards, the weapons are out in the provinces’ war for talent

Provinces across Canada are scrambling over each other to lure workers and businesses to their doors.

The campaigns may vary, from tax incentives to billboards along the highway, but the basic message is the same: “Come to us. We’ve got quality job opportunities and a good quality of life.”

Last month, Manitoba’s Minister of Advanced Education and Literacy announced a tax rebate program for post-secondary graduates who spend six years in Manitoba after finishing university.

Under the program, graduates are eligible to receive credits of up to 60 per cent of tuition payments, to a maximum of $25,000 over a lifetime, off of the provincial tax paid to Manitoba.

“We wanted to have an incentive for people with post-secondary qualifications to live and work in this province,” said Minister of Finance Greg Selinger. “It’s also a recruiting tool. Businesses and HR people could make it a package they use to attract people to their firms. They could say, ‘We give you a good working environment, here’s the cost of living and, by the way, you could get a tuition rebate of up to 60 per cent,’ as part of the package they offer to people to relocate to Manitoba.”

The rebate will be made available to all those graduating after this month from a college or university anywhere.

“They don’t have to be here immediately. They can come here five years after they graduate and settle in Manitoba and still be eligible for the rebate,” said Selinger.

Newcomers to Canada will also be able to claim tax rebates off of their foreign education as long as their degree is related to their employment in Manitoba, he said.

This is not the first tax incentive of its kind. This year, the first cohort of New Brunswickers will be able to claim up to 50 per cent or $10,000 of eligible tuition costs against their provincial income tax. The rebate is capped at $2,000 a year and students have up to 20 years to redeem the full value of their credit. The first rebates are claimed when returns are filed for the 2006 tax year.

The program is expected to cost the province $32 million over the first five years and $55 million over 10 years. Manitoba’s program is expected to cost $11 million in the first year.

Tax incentives aren’t the only tools being honed in this competition for skilled workers. Marketing campaigns, job match programs via the Internet and cross-country and cross-continent tours by government officials and business leaders have been a growing phenomenon over recent years.

Nova Scotia recently launched a billboard campaign in Calgary specifically targeting expatriate Nova Scotians who’ve come to Alberta to look for work.

As part of the campaign called “Come to life,” the province has purchased 29 billboard ads in Calgary that read: “Buy a home or two”; “Get ahead, come back”; and “Calgary is a nice place to visit.”

The campaign “is not intended to lure a certain number of people home,” said Angela Campbell, brand advisor for Communications Nova Scotia, the department behind the billboards.

“We don’t have a target number, but what we want to do is to get people thinking about Nova Scotia and rediscover it and look at the opportunities that are here now and are on the horizon as well,” she said.

Campbell pointed to the growth of the Brain Repair Centre and MedMira in Halifax as evidence the province’s life sciences sector is on the verge of taking off. Other opportunities touted on the campaign’s website include high-tech jobs with Research in Motion and L-3 Electronic Systems, as well as financial services jobs with Olympia Capital and Citco.

Also highlighted on the website is the cost of living in Alberta. “In Calgary the average price of a home is $358,000. In Nova Scotia, the average price is $167,000. Here, you can buy a home, or two, and perhaps a cottage on the water,” it reads.

The campaign, which is in its third year, also targets businesses in cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Houston. As a public-private partnership, the campaign has 24 organizations on board to help disperse the message.

“They see the advantages in doing business in Nova Scotia. They can do it here. They’re also telling us that the more people saying the same thing about Nova Scotia the better,” said Campbell.

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