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Hamilton Economic Development

Hamilton Highlights Newsletter – January 2014

In the January, 2014 edition of Hamilton Highlights…

  • Hamilton Advanced Manufacturing Report
  • Hamilton – City of Music
  • New Artist Work/Live Space Now Open
  • Success in the City

Click here to read the January 2014 Hamilton Highlights newsletter.  If you are interested in signing up for the Hamilton Highlights newsletter, click here.

U.S. patent has Weever Apps thinking bigger

Andrew Holden, left, and Rob Porter, co-founders of Weever Apps photoIt’s 22 pages long, 11,200 words, more than three years in the making and, for Hamilton’s Weever Apps, a newly achieved United States patent is just the beginning of its plans for expansion.

The startup learned Christmas Eve that it has been granted a U.S. patent for its technology that converts web pages into mobile apps.

“This protects us for the next 17 years,” said Weever co-founder Steve McBride.

“It’s both offensive and defensive. No one can say we’re infringing on their technology and we can stop other people from using our technology.”

Alex Ross, a partner at Gowlings law firm in Hamilton who guided the process, says it’s become increasingly difficult to get U.S. patents for software.

“It has to be a genuine innovation or advance over what was done before.”

Weever has applied for a Canadian patent and Ross says achieving a U.S. patent can help expedite Canadian approval.

Landing the patent is so big for the startup that it has already attracted three new investors who will help fund expansion, said McBride. The company now employs 13 people and will hire two more developers in March.

Weever also has a new partnership with DocuSign, a California company that specializes in digital signatures.

“So we made an app for the CFL Players’ Association and players can sign documents and deals within the app using digital signatures.”

Weever technology has built about 22,000 apps in 65 countries, says McBride. The firm has also done work for the likes of London Life, World Vision and Pioneer.

Its focus, though, is its app builder, which allows users to create apps for phones or tablets without needing to code. Weever is paid a monthly subscription.

Ross began working with Weever after the company won the 2011 Lion’s Lair competition, which included a $20,000 package of legal services from Gowlings. He says the company’s success points to Hamilton’s ability to nurture innovation.

“Without this kind of dedicated support, Weever’s U.S. patent likely wouldn’t have happened. When most people think of a hotbed for Canadian startups, they think of Waterloo or perhaps Ottawa, but success stories like this show that Hamilton also has the potential to become a vibrant startup community in its own right.”

Technology investor Blake Laufer says he was “stalking” Weever several months but only handed over his money and joined an expanded board of directors when the company landed its patent, which lists co-founders Andrew Holden and Rob Porter as the inventors.

“I think the patent and new features they’re adding make it more valuable,” Laufer, a successful software entrepreneur himself, says of Weever.

Laufer is impressed by the management team and by the company’s approach to building solutions across a variety of software platforms.

“There is a lot of risk and R&D at the bleeding edge but they are at the leading edge. The things they are doing today will become commonplace for others in another few years.”

Article courtesy of Meredith MacLeod, The Hamilton Spectator

Grain keeps port afloat

Grains and trains are setting the pace for cargo volume through the Port of Hamilton last year.

The Hamilton Port Authority said in a news release Monday while overall volume through the port was essentially flat last year, grain and the volume of cargo moved in and out of the port by train continue to grow as steel volume slumps.

“Last year was fairly flat for us in terms of volume,” said Ian Hamilton, the authority’s vice-president for marketing. “We’ve lost 3 to 4 million tonnes of U.S. Steel cargo over the last five years but we’re delighted we’ve been able to replace almost half of that.”

Hamilton said grain volume through the port rose 13 per cent last year while fertilizer tonnage was up 2 per cent.

Total cargo through the Port of Hamilton during the 2013 shipping season was more than 10 million tonnes, essentially flat compared to 10.3 million tonnes in 2012 and 10 million in 2011.

The grain handled at Hamilton’s port terminal includes more than 1.3 million tonnes of soybeans, canola, wheat and corn, most of it grown by southern Ontario farmers for export to global markets. Grain handling facilities in Hamilton include investments in port facilities by companies such as Sylvite Agri-Services Ltd., Parrish and Heimbecker and Richardson International. Last year Sylvite opened two new liquid fertilizer storage tanks worth $4 million. Together, they hold the equivalent of four Olympic-sized swimming pools of fertilizer. Parrish and Heimbecker spent more than $30 million to inflate two storage bubbles at the foot of Wentworth Street to hold 56,000 tonnes of grain.

Increases were also noted last year in such cargo as iron ore, salt and gasoline, offsetting decreases in steel-related freight such as coal, coke and finished steel.

Specifically, Hamilton handled 7.35 million tonnes of steel-related products last year compared to 1.3 million tonnes of grain. Where steel represented 79.1 per cent of the port’s volume in 2009 it now stands for 73.3 per cent. Agricultural products, including grain and fertilizer, have risen in the same period from 9.8 per cent to 17.8 per cent.

Making the switch from an almost total reliance on steel to other products has been part of an ongoing effort by the port authority to diversify its range of cargo and to attract $500 million in new investment.

Both parts of the campaign are going well, Hamilton said.

“This has been a slow process, but we have a lot of new terminals and investment now,” he said. “We’re getting close to the halfway mark and we’re still ahead of schedule.”

Grain shipping boat photoRail cars are also a growing part of the port’s business — during the year, 540 more rail cars transited the port, bringing the annual total to just over 3,800 cars.

Grain cargo was also responsible for helping the St. Lawrence Seaway finish 2013 on a strong note. In a news release Monday the Seaway’s management company reported a late harvest on the plains resulted in record breaking volumes of grain moving through the system in December.

Despite the cold snap enveloping much of North America, a total of 4.4 million tonnes of cargo moved through the Seaway in December, 130,000 tonnes more than last December and beating the five year December average volume by 20 per cent.

Seaway tonnage for the 2013 navigation season was 37 million tonnes, 5.3 per cent below the volume of 2012. Overall grain tonnage was down 3.2 per cent in 2013 as much of the record crop was quite late and ended up being stored for movement when the Seaway reopens sometime in March.

“We expect cargo volume at the start of next year will be all right because of what’s backed up,” Hamilton said.

Adding to the sense of optimism for this year is a generally positive outlook for the regional and national economy.

Article courtesy of Steve Arnold, The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton’s building boom continues in 2013

Hamilton had another $1-billion year.

The city issued its building permit reports for December 2013 and its year-end results which showed it had a total of $1.03 billion in construction value.

Construction activity was nearly divided in half between residential and non-residential. The residential sector represented 51.2 per cent of the annual total with more than $524 million. Industrial, commercial and institutional sectors were worth $496 million in construction value.

“Last year (2012) we hit the $850 million, but we first broke $1 billion in 2010. It’s really remarkable,” said Neil Everson, the city’s director of economic development. “We’re actually averaging $1 billion in construction a year since 2009.”

The city recorded a record $1.5 billion in construction in 2012.

Some key projects leading the 2013 construction values including downtown’s Homewood Suites and Bella Towers complex, the McMaster health campus downtown, the new Tim Hortons Field stadium and large industrial projects such as the new Maple Leaf meat processing plant in the Red Hill business park.

Finishing the year 2013 with a slight majority of construction in the residential sector is good and bad, said Everson.

Bad, because the city needs more industrial and commercial development to generate economic growth.

But good, because Hamilton’s population is aging, making new homes a possible indication of a demographic shift to younger families. Everson said it’s important to also look at where the growth is happening, which includes the older parts of the city with several renovation projects.

“We have 15 planned residential projects for the downtown, that’s really good news,” he said.

Construction in Hamilton has surged compared with surrounding regions, particularly the Niagara Peninsula, said Everson. But in Burlington, construction values have stayed strong, but heavily weighted in residential.

Article courtesy of Lisa Marr, The Hamilton Spectator

Mars Avenue site soon to look less like Mars

The old Studebaker factory photoResidents in the old homes that line Mars Avenue stare out their windows at a barren landscape that resembles the red planet.

In September of 2012, a demo crew started to decimate the long mothballed Studebaker factory, a teardown that lasted about a year.

Tony Perri, who has lived on Mars Avenue for about 20 years, is glad the factory is gone.

“It looks nicer. The airflow’s a lot better,” Perri said during a recent blustery afternoon in the northern industrial neighbourhood.

But he’s also tired of looking at 26 acres of emptiness.

“Looking at this sea of gravel, we figured something would have been done by now. It just seems to be a standstill, and it’s starting to become annoying.”

Developer Sergio Manchia prefers the word “anxious” when describing the wait to lay out a “pristine” industrial park “in the heart of the city.”

“It’s not up in the Glanbrook area; it’s not in Ancaster,” says Manchia, wearing a neatly pressed suit and polished dress shoes while trudging through the mucky site.

“They’re doing great, fantastic, great,” he adds, “but I’m really focused on bringing some new stuff downtown.”

Tearing down all but 30,000 of the 740,000 square feet of the Studebaker factory was a tough slog, but remediating the brownfield will be tougher, acknowledges Manchia.

His company, UrbanCore Developments, is developing the property in collaboration with landowner DCR Holdings.

“It’s not a quick process,” he says, but the team can see “some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Manchia, also a professional planner and associate with IBI Group, has brought old buildings back to life before.

Some of his work includes the Annex Lofts in a former Eaton’s warehouse on Rebecca Street and the Garfield Lofts, condos in what used to be the CKOC and Bell Canada building on Garfield Street.

Manchia says he wants to draw “more sustainable” uses, such as technology and health-care-related companies, to the new industrial park.

With more than 50 per cent of the 18 lots already “spoken for,” he hopes to break ground this summer, depending on how long remediation takes.

Manchia and his consultant are scheduled to address city officials in January about the project’s record of site condition, a requirement for municipal grants under the city’s Environmental and Remediation and Site Enhancement (ERASE) program.

The Studebaker factory operated on Mars Avenue from 1948 to 1966.

But the 1902 building was also home to Otis Elevators, weapons manufacturing during the First and Second World Wars and Trebor-Allen Candy. Otis bought the building back from Studebaker in 1969 and operated there until 1987.

Manchia has left 30,000 feet of the Otis wing standing at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ferrie Street.

The plan is to turn it into three floors of modern office space by using much of the original wood and brickwork. Original elevator mechanisms and cars will also help maintain that retro-industrial flavour.

Manchia’s project will alleviate an industrial land crunch in Hamilton, a city official working on the file says.

“One of the key issues that we have right now is that our vacancy rate for industrial buildings is about 1.3 per cent right now,” said Norm Schleehahn, the city’s business development manager.

The new business park will be well situated near major thoroughfares such as Burlington Street and the QEW, Schleehahn added.

The city struggled to attract players to the sprawling Studebaker footprint. Two proposals — one involving a movie studio and the second a recreation facility — went nowhere.

“It was very dysfunctional by today’s standards. You couldn’t get one large user in there,” Schleehahn said.

Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli said it was sad to watch the old factory’s demise over time.

“I’ve been hoping to get this cleaned up for some time.”

Morelli is using some of his ward’s area rating funds to purchase an acre of land to expand a community park at the Wentworth Street North end of the development. The developer has also kicked in a half acre.

While frustrated by the false starts, Morelli is confident Manchia’s project is the real deal.

“Obviously, he’s a fair amount along the way,” the councillor said. “This is not even close to what the last one was.”

Article courtesy of Teviah Moro, The Hamilton Spectator

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