The number of people leaving Cape Breton Island has hit an all-time high.

The population in Cape Breton County has seen a decline of 2.9 per cent to 98,722 people, which hasn’t happened since the Great Depression.

“I think for the longest time people have just been ignoring it,” says Adrian White of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think they think it's someone else's problem … that is not the case. We are the one's responsible for fixing this problem.”

White says one of the problems is that industrial Cape Breton is not attractive to new business owners or the younger generation. He feels the Cape Breton Regional Municipality mayor plays a big role.

“It's well in their power to be part of the turnaround in this,” White says. “One of things businesses suffer from is the high commercial tax rate here in the CBRM. It's the third highest in the country after Toronto and Vancouver.

The drop was even more pronounced in the urban core areas of Sydney, Glace Bay, New Waterford and North Sydney, where the population dropped 3.5 per cent. Suburban areas fell by an even bigger rate of 3.7 per cent.

Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald says the province needs to do a better job outside of Halifax.

“The decline in population comes with the economic opportunities that comes from across the province,” MacDonald says. “We haven't seen those opportunities here. I'm 52 years old and basically I've been raised in a community that's had 15 per cent unemployment and I can't remember that number ever changing.”

Councillors have agreed to hold a workshop in the coming weeks with business owners and young people to discuss economic development as they try and find a solution for a desperate situation.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.