COOLIDGE — Although Pinal County is feeling the loss of Canadian snowbirds this year — both residents and tourists — there is some room for optimism. While the pandemic suppressed the economy this year, could a snowbird “boom” be in order down the road?
Glenn Williamson, CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council, speculated that both business and marketing partnerships implied an increase in Canadian investment in the region, and that an uptick in both snowbirds and full-time residents would follow.
In fact, while only 30% of residing Canadians made it down to Arizona this year, Canadian companies were still establishing ties to the area.
“Pinal County has an opportunity to rise to the surface big time,” Williamson said. “We’ve got a boatload of Canadian EV companies looking at that area and going ‘wow.’”
The electric vehicle market overall provides the lynchpin for the Canada-Arizona relationship. There are also several thousand employees of Canadian companies working in northern Mexico as well, putting Arizona in the middle of North American supply chains.
The CABC is interested in two aspects of the EV relationship. One is partnering with companies that supply components for the vehicles that Lucid and Nikola plan to build in the area. The Canadian company Jomi Engineering purchased a building this year in Casa Grande to build roof components for Lucid’s electric vehicles.
But Williamson believes the area will see greater investment in the EV market overall. Currently there are several Canadian companies that build EV scooters or buses, such as GreenPower Motor Company, which has offices in California. Williamson sees something similarly happening around Casa Grande and Pinal County. If Arizona’s market for EV is robust enough, it could begin to directly compete with California for those kinds of companies.
“I’d love to see Pinal County become the Michigan of EV,” Williamson said. “Pinal County could be a major stronghold for North America the way Michigan was for gasoline cars.”
Even from the standpoint of attracting retirees, much like within the U.S., Williamson still sees an opportunity to pull in snowbirds who would typically winter (or retire) in Florida out west instead. Up until the pandemic, the state hadn’t necessarily been active in efforts to draw in Canadians; the influx more or less happened on its own.
“Canadians have hit this re-set button by taking this year down,” Williamson said. “The normal, ‘Let’s just go to Florida’ mindset will maybe change. We are hoping Arizona really starts marketing.”
A future marketing campaign also wouldn’t have to limit itself to retirees. Williamson believes that the pandemic has changed how many people view work and that the increase in remote opportunities means younger people could also relocate to meet their preferences.
“With COVID-19 being what it is,” Williamson said, “there is a huge population of younger people that is going: ‘You know what? I can work from wherever I want.’”
That is not to say that the losses this year were not impactful. In addition to a 70% drop in winter residents from Canada, there was also an 80% drop in Canadian tourists. That resulted in millions of dollars in economic losses — tourists alone spend about a billion dollars a year in Arizona. Although RV parks have filled in vacancies locally, the rental housing market has taken a hit. Williamson believed the area hit hardest was the restaurant industry.
According to Williamson, there are around 500 Canadian companies with a presence in Arizona overall. In a typical year, Canadians rent or own about 100,000 homes in the state. Historically, the majority of snowbirds came directly south from Alberta. Now, most winter residents come from the large eastern cities in Ontario and Quebec. Prior to the pandemic there were slightly over 200 flights a week between Toronto and Phoenix.