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Hamilton Economic Development

City tops $1B mark in construction permits four years in a row

Construction in Hamilton has topped $1 billion for the fourth straight year.

In a news release Wednesday afternoon, the city’s chief building official Ed VanderWindt said the milestone was passed this month.

To the end of October the city reported sales of building permits for construction valued at more than $978.8 million. Another $21.2 million was added Nov. 9, bringing the annual total to just over $1 billion.

This is the fifth time in the past six years the city has topped the $1-billion permit mark — and there’s still just over seven weeks left in the year.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the blistering pace of local building is a testament to the city’s economic development strategy.

“A lot of it is due to business expansion and that is exactly our strategy to grow business in our community,” he said. “This is exactly what we want to see.”

The year-to-date numbers are still heavily weighted toward residential construction — 84.4 per cent. In fact industrial, commercial and institutional building is down more than 51 per cent for the year. Despite that, almost $230 million worth of industrial-commercial permits were sold.

Civic leaders want more commercial and industrial building to ensure people can work as well as live here and because that kind of assessment produces more tax revenue than it consumes in services.

“That’s not a problem we’re going to solve in the next two or three years,” Eisenberger said. “Right now we’ll take what we can get since we’re moving in the right direction.”

Neil Everson, director of Hamilton’s economic development department, said city council has set a clear direction to chase more business-related building, but the pace is being held back by a lack of employment land.

Some of that will be solved as business development around Hamilton airport increases and as U.S. Steel land becomes available as the former Stelco restructures under creditor protection.

Suzanne Mammel, executive officer of the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders’ Association, said her members are building houses as fast as they can because demand is sizzling.

“The frank reality is that we’re in a ‘drive until you can afford it’ scenario,” she said. “People from Toronto just keep driving this way looking for the single-family home they can afford.”

While those home-seekers draw down the inventory of available new and resale homes, available land for building in Hamilton is slowly dwindling as builders creep closer to the city’s urban boundary.

Mammel and Everson both expect the demand for homes downtown and in the east end will accelerate as the new GO stations are completed.

Keanin Loomis, president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, sees the building boom as the payoff for years of selling the city and its attractions.

“The city is really hitting its stride in terms of economic development after years of actively spreading the gospel of Hamilton,” he said.

He is largely untroubled by the imbalance between residential and industrial-commercial building because more residents translates to more potential trade for local businesses.

“It’s all positive, it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from because it means people want to live here,” he said. “You won’t hear our members complaining about having more customers living in the city.”

Joe Mancinelli, of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the pace of building has his union members at full employment and facing a pressing need for more skilled workers to meet intense demand.

“New houses are being built everywhere and they’re selling like hotcakes,” he said. “I don’t see any slowdown in that coming.”

Article courtesy of Steve Arnold, The Hamilton Spectator

New Hamilton brewery combines roll ‘n’ roll and beer

Photo of The new Collective Arts BreweryBeer and rock ‘n’ roll. They are a natural match, both chemically and commercially.

Neil Young knew that when he satirically wrote “This Note’s For You,” Jim Morrison of The Doors knew it when he sang “Roadhouse Blues” (“I woke up this morning and I got myself a be-yah“), Steve Winwood knew it when he reworked the old English folksong “John Barleycorn Must Die” for his band Traffic, and … well, I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other examples (John Lee Hooker, anyone?).

The folks at Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing have figured out this connection as well. As a matter of fact, they’re opening their new craft brewery on Burlington Street East to the public on Saturday with a frothy helping of beer and rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s called the Bash in the Brewery. Twitter hashtag: #BEERISTHENEWSTEEL.

From noon to 4 p.m., a free open house will feature guided tours and tasting stations ($2 for half pours and $4 for full pours), as well as live music by Sarah Burton, Bravestation and the Knads resonating among the beer vats and bottling machines.

At 7 p.m., the real party gets underway, moving into the brewery’s 10,000 square-foot event space where three live bands — Hamilton’s WTCHS, Ottawa’s Hollerado and Toronto’s Zeus — will perform from a stage specially built for the occasion, complete with a light show that will bounce off the beer tanks towering behind it.

“This is a rock show in a brewery,” says Dane Pedersen, events manager for Collective Arts Brewing. “We’re not going to hide the fact that there’s a brewery.”

The Bash will be the start of something new on Burlington Street — a hip craft brewery with its own event for concerts and parties. It can fit 1,000 people, probably more.

A parking lot and a large outdoor patio area are in their final stages of completion (if the parking lot isn’t ready Saturday, try the Eastwood Park lot west of the brewery at Ferguson).

“We’ve already had our first wedding booked for next summer,” says Matt Johnston, a Hamilton native who co-founded the brewery with Bob Russell a couple of years ago in Toronto before moving it to their hometown. “We just want to add to the life of the city. Eventually we want this space used all the time. Hamilton needs more mid-sized event spaces.”

From its inception, Collective Arts wanted its brand to be affiliated with music and the arts. The bottled versions of its products feature labels designed by musical acts, mostly independents, and artists from around the world. So far the brewery has promoted 334 acts, mostly Canadian. As well, each label contains an app that, when held up to a drinker’s smartphone, will direct it to an artist’s website.

The recent hiring of Pedersen as “events manager,” demonstrates the brewery’s interest in the city’s cultural scene. Pedersen, who also run’s the brewery’s small retail outlet, is the former owner of the Loose Canon Gallery on James Street North and was one of the key players in organizing the early Art Crawls. In more recent years, Pedersen has been co-coordinator of Supercrawl and a member of its board of directors.

“My job is to promote connections with events that are happening within the city,” Pedersen says.

Collective Arts and its partner, the Burlington-based Nickel Brook brewery, took over the old Lakeport site after Labatt shut it down in 2010, taking with it all the plant’s equipment and leaving 143 people unemployed.

Johnston said Collective Arts and Nickel Brook have invested more than $5 million in the plant which currently employs more than 40 people. Much of the brewery’s equipment was purchased and shipped here from a now-defunct Sleeman plant in Dartmouth, N.S.

Collective Arts Brewmaster Ryan Morrow estimates the plant, which began operations this summer, is currently producing 20,000 litres of beer a day for area pubs and liquor stores. They hope to push that to 10 million litres a year.

“We haven’t really hit our full stride,” says Morrow. “We’re getting there gradually.”

Collective Arts’ best known labels are Rhyme & Reason Extra Pale Ale and Saint of Circumstance Blonde Ale which are available in provincial liquor stores. Those brands and others can also be purchased directly from the brewery store fresh in “growler” (1.69 litre) and “squealer” (one litre) refillable bottles.

The Burlington Street brewery site, between Ferguson and Wellington, is owned by the Hamilton Port Authority, but has a long history of beer, starting with the original Peller brewery in the mid-40s, followed by labels that included Henninger, Amstel, President’s Choice, Laker, Steeler and Lakeport.

Article courtesy of Graham Rockingham, The Hamilton Spectator

Young Hamilton entrepreneurs to see boost through program expansion

More young Hamilton entrepreneurs will be able to receive help launching their small businesses through the expansion of a provincial program that provides training, mentorship and startup funding to youth.

The province is providing thPhoto of Sarah Bethune, Ballroom dancing studio owner who used the Starter Company programe city with $350,000 in additional funding for Starter Company — a key part of its youth jobs strategy — announced at the one-year celebration of the program’s Hamilton launch on Thursday.

“With such high youth unemployment, a lot of youth do try to start businesses,” said Rob Belchior, business development officer at the Small Business Enterprise Centre, noting Ontario’s youth unemployment rate hovers around 15 per cent. “But like anybody else starting a business, it’s really hard.”

With the new funding, up to 70 Hamilton youth aged 18 to 29 whose full-time business are less than a year old or who want to get one started can apply for a $5,000 grant. They can also receive mentorship from local business leaders and advice through the Small Business Enterprise Centre.

To date, approximately $135,000 has been given to Hamilton entrepreneurs through the program.

Young entrepreneurs can apply for funding through the SBEC until March 31, 2017. Recipients must be able to contribute at least 25 per cent of the grant amount, according to the province’s website.

So far, 28 grants have been handed out to young Hamilton business owners, whose companies range from bubble soccer rentals — the soccer players wear large, plastic bubbles — to commercial cleaning operations, to a public relations agency.

Training and business skills development — around business planning, marketing, financial forecasting, legal issues and taxation — has also been offered to 112 aspiring young business owners to help them get started.

“If we can help as many businesses as possible to succeed, they create a job for themselves, and a lot of them actually end up hiring people as they grow,” Belchior said.

Ballroom dancing studio owner Sarah Bethune used the Starter Company program when launching her business, Stepping Out Dance Company, which opened last October.

Her first year has been a “dream come true,” she said at Thursday’s celebration.

Before launching her business, networking and public speaking were two of her biggest challenges, she said.

“With the help of Starter Company and the Small Business Enterprise Centre, I was able to find my confidence, learn new skills and conquer my fears.”

Across Ontario, more than 2,000 young entrepreneurs have used the Starter Company program since it launched in the fall of 2013.

Article courtesy of Natalie Paddon, The Hamilton Spectator

New $12-million air cargo terminal opens in Hamilton

CARGO CENTRE photoHamilton airport’s new cargo terminal is wheels up.

The $12-million facility was officially opened Thursday, even though its main tenant has been operating from it for a month.

Airport president Frank Scremin said the new terminals, with a cooler, secured customs area and 16 truck bays, will open Mount Hope airport to tons of cargo it hasn’t been able to handle before.

“This will open access to the overnight express business in Hamilton to a lot of cargo operators,” Scremin said. “This facility is going to be accessible for them.”

Scremin explained that while Hamilton is already the busiest cargo airport in Canada, its growth has been held back by the lack of something like the new Air Cargo Logistics Centre.

He explained that with few warehouses in Hamilton, shippers lacked space to store their freight while they consolidated cargos or got customs clearances. Time-sensitive freight, like flowers, pharmaceuticals and food, couldn’t go through Hamilton at all without a cooler.

Now, with 5,000 square feet of climate-controlled space, fruit from South America, flowers from Europe, seafood from the Martimes and medication from everywhere can pass through Hamilton.

“We are going to be a lot more aggressive about going after the perishables business now,” Scremin said.

Half of the new terminal has been taken over by CargoJet, the Mississauga-based company that has become Canada’s largest air freight hauler.

Gord Johnston, the company’s vice-president for sales, said the new terminal will make John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport a destination for many new airlines, bringing in freight his aircraft can then move around the country.

“I know other airlines are going to be attracted here now,” he said.

Cost of the facility was split between the federal and provincial governments and TradePort International Corp., the company that operates the airport under a long-term lease with Hamilton.

With a federal election looming, government MPs were quick to praise the Harper Conservatives for backing an important infrastructure project.

“Canada’s prosperity depends on a network of strong public infrastructure,” said Public Works Minister Diane Finley. “We remain focused on creating the right environment to encourage economic growth.”

Finley said the new facility will result in 400 jobs, both in its own operations and among companies using it.

Ontario Education Minister and Guelph MPP Liz Sandals said her government supported the project because it will boost the area’s economy.

“We’re supporting this because we want to grow our economy and create jobs right here in Hamilton,” she said. “We’re supporting this because we know how important infrastructure projects like this are.

Even Opposition MPs supported the project. Wayne Marston, the NDP member for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek praised it as a source of jobs for the future.

Ron Foxcroft, chair of TradePort’s board, said the city needs more such projects that cut across party lines for the good of the city.

“More than anything this airport is an example of partnerships working,” he said. “It shows we can break down the party lines for the benefit of the city.”

Article courtesy of Steve Arnold, The Hamilton Spectator

Pan Am Games were a fantastic showcase for Hamilton

FIREWORKSThe end of Pan Am in Hamilton, at least, met the pre-Games hype.

A capacity crowd roared during a hard-fought 1-0 gold medal soccer win at the city’s $145-million stadium. The highway drive to Hamilton was doable, if not enjoyable. Hamilton native and basketball gold medallist Kia Nurse was flag-bearer for a Canadian Pan Am team that pulled in a record 217 medals.

And thousands of people were expected to flood the waterfront at Pier 4 Park for a fireworks display synchronized to music from a live orchestra Sunday evening.

“I thought, overall, it was just a fantastic showcase for Hamilton,” said Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

It wasn’t always so Pan-tastic.

Over two weeks, the QEW occasionally morphed into a commuter trap. Some games drew only a few thousand fans — not unexpected, but striking in a 22,500-seat stadium.

Pan Am shuttles for soccer spectators were so efficient, many out-of-towners saw little of Hamilton other than the stadium and GO Station. Stadium rules didn’t allow fans out between games, hurting businesses at city-sponsored satellite events.

Anecdotally, it appears attendance at everything from stadium soccer to the downtown beer tent improved gradually between July 10 and 26 — but we don’t really know.

Other than the medal count, hard Pan Am numbers are hard to come by, even for the stadium and GO Train. For now, it’s about impressions:

 

The stadium

 

Take it from a guy who spends a lot of time in soccer venues: Hamilton’s stadium is “awesome,” said Nicolás Romay, who covered Pan Am soccer for Mexico’s Claro Sports. “All the facilities we needed, they are here. The people, I thought, first-rate.”

Romay said he enjoyed being able to see so much of Hamilton — the escarpment, the waterfront — from his perch atop the stadium. That was nice, since he and most international media types didn’t stay here — they were bused in daily from Toronto.

Stadium food remains a work in progress. Some spectators waited 30 minutes for grub during the first soccer weekend despite game attendance of less than 5,000. Crowds grew over time, but wait times were up and down. To be fair, the not-quite-complete stadium still doesn’t have working beer taps. Over to you, city and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

 

The traffic

 

Hamilton set up 68 cameras on major streets leading to the stadium and prepared to make remote signal adjustments on the fly but for the most part, changes weren’t needed. The province’s much-maligned Pan Am HOV plan, which guaranteed athlete and official movement in three-rider minimum carpool lanes, got mixed reviews from commuters.

But when collisions bunched up on the QEW Saturday, soccer fans lost — even when their team won. Wayne Thomas spent most of the bronze medal men’s final on the highway. He made it to Hamilton’s stadium late with the score knotted at 1-1 but was then denied entry due to what appeared to be a mixup.

Venue manager Kelly Smith said the gates remained open into extra time, but Thomas said he was twice prevented from entering, forcing him to peer through the gate to see his team, Brazil, pull ahead 2-1 near the end of regular time.

He eventually got the green light, just before the game ended.

“You know, this is the first time I’ve ever specifically come to Hamilton,” he said with a laugh. “I should probably at least go in and see the stadium.”

 

The festivals

 

Specific Pan Am venue rules that forbade re-entry were tough to swallow at the stadium, where most tickets were for two matches spread over several hours. The rules hurt food trucks and vendors at Gore Park and Ottawa Street events expecting soccer fan spillover.

“Shuttle shot visitors thru the city to be locked in the stadium and shuttled out at the end. So much for showcasing #HamOnt,” Tweeted food truck operator Gorilla Cheese.

Flyer handouts at both the stadium and GO Station helped, suggested Tim Potocic, lead organizer on the waterfront Pan Am weekend finale, peering at numerous soccer jerseys in the crowd Sunday.

“Personally, I think locally we did everything we could, everything that was under our control, to encourage people to come out and enjoy really first-rate cultural and entertainment events.”

North-ender Mike Kleinhuis, who kept the soccer fun rolling Sunday by kicking the ball around with his son at Pier 4 Park, gave local organizers high marks for “focusing on local talent,” pointing to Terra Lightfoot and Alfie Smith at the waterfront as examples. “These are people we love, people we’re proud of, so I thought it was great for the city.”

 

The business case

 

Perhaps stadium soccer in a residential neighbourhood with shuttles ready to whisk fans away postgame was never going to be a bonanza for local bars and restaurants.

A trickle of fans tried exploring Barton and King streets after medal games on the weekend, however.

“We were not going to leave until we found a place to have a drink,” said Fenton Alphonse, who with a friend ended up at the Prince Edward Tavern on Barton, more notable for diehard CFL than footie fans.

“It did take us a while,” admitted the Mississauga resident and first-time Hamilton visitor. “It was this or Tim Hortons, and, you know, they only serve coffee.”

Impromptu flag and T-shirt sales were brisk and while spontaneous bacon-on-a-stick sales were kiboshed quickly, everyone and his uncle had a parking space for sale.

Eisenberger said the biggest business coup was the city’s courting of international executives. Those visitors toured the core, the waterfront and available real estate.

A bilateral trade forum with Niagara served up an announcement of a new “centre of excellence for sports analytics,” and the mayor said he hopes more relationships will develop over time.

“We’re one of very few communities that actually made such an economic development effort, and it is paying off,” he said.

Article courtesy of Matthew Van Dongen, The Hamilton Spectator.

Pan Am Games meant ‘a special summer’ for Hamilton

The Pan Am Games were a smooth ride for Hamilton, and one that left us with a stadium and a lot of good memories, Mayor Fred Eisenberger says.

But others wish there had been better logistics for moving fans and more economic spinoff for local businesses.

Eisenberger said before the final soccer game at CIBC Stadium on Sunday that the games have been a good thing for Hamilton.

They resulted in the city getting a new stadium for one-third of the cost. And despite a few minor glitches, “they’ve gone smoothly,” he said.

“Those that involved themselves got to enjoy two weeks of fun, two weeks of sports entertainment and a wealth of talent and enthusiasm in our community,” he said.

“We’re a closer knit community now, and we’re on a very positive curve.”

Toronto 2015 organizers sold about 200,000 tickets for the 18 soccer events at what is normally called Tim Hortons Field. That’s about two thirds of the available tickets.

While some games, such as when the Canadian men’s team played Brazil on opening weekend, drew a crowd near the 19,000-seat capacity. Other games drew fewer than 4,000 people.

Business owners surveyed around the stadium said they experienced little economic benefits. Some shops on Ottawa Street, where the BIA hosted food trucks, said they actually saw less business, presumably because regular customers thought the street would be to jammed to pass.

Entrepreneurs and residents had various theories on why local business didn’t see much of a spinoff. Pan Am attendees who arrived via the West Harbour GO station, for example, took shuttle buses directly to the stadium, where they disembarked and stayed. Drivers were directed to Mohawk College and McMaster University, where buses took them to the front door of the stadium. And those with tickets to double headers weren’t allowed to leave between games.

“All I see is buses going in and buses going out,” said Nirmit Patel, who owns Welcome Mart near the stadium.

Vrancor Hospitality Corp., owners of the Sheraton, Homewood Suites and Staybridge Suites, reported a 9.5-per cent increase in room rentals, primarily from games officials and media.

The city had ongoing events, such as Celebration Square in Gore Park, and an international viewing house at Ferguson Station in the International Village. They appeared fairly well attended on weekends, but drew scant crowds during the week.

Coun. Jason Farr, who represents Ward 2 downtown, concurs that attendance was “up and down” at the local events. But he thinks reaction was generally positive.

“From my own personal observation, certainly Gore Park was more alive because of the Pan Am Promenade,” he said. He also encountered people on James Street North who were from out of town and looking for places to go.

‘Surpassed hopes’

Like Eisenberger, Farr said the big success is the new stadium and the new attention it brought the Pan Am precinct.

“It lived up to and even surpassed hopes,” he said. “I really do think it was a very special summer for us.”

Paul Miller, MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and the NDP critic for the Pan Am Games, said he was pleased with the athleticism he saw at the games. As for logistics, he saw room for improvement.

Security at the stadium was fairly slow, he said, so people with tickets were still in lines at the entrance when the game had already started. He also wished the West Harbour GO station, while functional, was more of a finished product.

Did the GO station ever get completed? I’m not sure,” he said.

On Monday, Metrolinx closed the east platform of the station again for construction.

Brought business opportunities

Miller also has questions about the economic spinoff of the games, including people’s inability to leave the stadium after they’d entered. And the HOV lanes on GTHA highways, which were reserved for vehicles with three or more occupants, were “underused and too restrictive.”

“I’m happy with the results,” he said of the games “I’m not quite overly thrilled with the traffic and economic spinoff. Overall, I’d say it was a 6.5 out of 10.”

Eisenberger said he was also pleased with the Pan Am Investment Playbook Bilateral Trade Forum downtown. Hamilton will host a trade delegation from Colombia this fall as a result of the games, he said.

“The longer legacy is the relationships built with businesses and business opportunities,” he said.

The final Pan Am Games event in Hamilton was the cultural showcase at the waterfront on Sunday night, which featured fireworks by Circus Orange with the National Academy Orchestra.

Article courtesy of Samantha Craggs, CBC News

Major trade mission coming to Hamilton in October

Hamilton is looking for more than memories and medals out of the Pan Am Games.

Along with Niagara Region, the city hopes to score big with a trade delegation from Colombia coming to Hamilton in late October — a deal arranged during the Games.

Under the deal announced Tuesday, 70 companies from the South American country will come here in October to buy and sell products and services, mostly in the information and communication technology field.

Alvaro Concha, Colombia’s trade commissioner to Canada, told a gathering at Mohawk College the companies are coming here to sell software and to entice Canadian firms to invest in a country with a rapidly growing economy.

“It’s about connecting Canadian companies with Colombian companies in the ICT sectors. What we’re trying to offer as a country is for Canadian companies to source in Colombia or to find opportunities to invest in our country,” he said.

“ICT is a very easy industry to connect because everything is just a click away,” he added. “We see Colombia as a key player in that sector.”

Concha said Colombia offers many points to attract Canadians with money to invest — the country’s middle class is growing rapidly, its gross domestic product hit $600 billion last year and its foreign trade swelled to $60 billion — $1.8 billion of that was with Canada.

ICT segment sales were more than $2.2 billion — the third highest in Latin America, he said.

The companies coming to Hamilton and Toronto in October will have software to sell in the gaming and mobile applications fields, among others. They’ll also be looking for partners to invest in their country.

One of the challenges to getting Canadian companies interested in Colombia, Concha said, is a general lack of awareness.

“Part of this event is to create that awareness and show what Colombia is all about in IT,” he said. “The October event has to be a high-level one so we can impact and spread the word in a very strong way, to put Colombia on the radar.”

Once known as one of the most violent countries on Earth, ruled by warring drug cartels, Concha said his nation now offers a safe haven for investors.

The World Bank’s annual Doing Business report for 2015 ranked Colombia “No. 1 for being the friendliest country to do business and the No. 1 in Latin America for being the best to protect investors,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal has been similarly complimentary.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he’s hoping Colombian companies coming in October will also be looking to invest and buy products and services.

“What we have is a stable economy. If they want to expand their business, they are looking for a stable economy to invest in,” he said. “Some people are still worried about the politics and the dynamics down there. Even though it’s stable at the moment, it tends to be volatile. They want a safe haven to invest and grow their business, and Hamilton and Canada are seen as that safe haven.”

Wednesday’s announcement is part of the Economic Development Department’s Americas Investment Playbook, a strategy developed with Niagara Region to use the Pan Am Games as a chance to forge links with businesses from those nations.

“The economy is global today and we have to be sure we reach to those other global markets to explore opportunities,” Eisenberger said. “Our economic development folks here have developed a good strategy to capitalize not only on the sports opportunity of Pan Am but also the business opportunity.”

The strategy will continue Wednesday with a bilateral trade forum featuring presentations by the consuls-general of Chile, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, the United States and Colombia.

Article courtesy of Steve Arnold, The Hamilton Spectator

City on track to break $1B in building permits again

CONSTRUCTIONAt the halfway mark of the year, the city is on track to break the $1-billion mark in building permit value for the fifth time in six years.

The city has recorded $541 million in construction value via 3,423 building permits through the end of last month.

Hamilton topped the billion-dollar mark in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The construction value so far this year and the number of permits issued were only eclipsed by results of the first six months of 2012.

“Right now, we are tracking strong,” said Neil Everson, director of the city’s economic development division.

“It was a cold winter and a slow start to the year, so our numbers were down. But the interest is strong now.”

He says there are important projects coming in the near future, too.

Everson says breaking through the billion-dollar mark continues to be an important milestone.

“The first time we hit it, it was such a big deal. It was on the front page then … Now we have the potential to make it five of six years, so we strive for it. We don’t know how long it will last.”

Almost three-quarters of June’s $94.4-million construction value was in the residential sector. The city has made it a priority to boost its non-residential tax assessment.

Comparing three-year averages, the non-residential construction value this year is down 33 per cent, while residential is up 24 per cent. The number of permits is up in all sectors.

Everson says there is growing interest in the manufacturing sector this year, at least partly buoyed by a Canadian dollar that makes exports more competitive.

“I think building permits are a good barometer of what’s happening in the economy. We’re seeing growth in every sector except institutional but we can’t complain about that too much because there has been so much activity there for the last few years.”

Article courtesy of Meredith MacLeod, The Hamilton Spectator

Teaming up on Pan Am playbook

Hamilton and Niagara work together on an investment strategy

While athletes are here trying to reach the podium in the Pan Am Games, an economic development venture between Hamilton and Niagara is working to score a sports analytics consortium for the region.

The two municipalities have joined forces to create what they’ve called the Americas Investment Playbook. It lays out a series of tours and networking events meant to capitalize on the presence of diplomats, team delegates and sponsors from Pan Am countries in Hamilton for soccer, St. Catharines for rowing and Welland for canoeing and kayaking.

One of the immediate wins being worked on is the development of a partnership between a Brazilian group named Project One and local colleges, universities and innovation centres that will focus on wearable and tracking technologies to create comprehensive sports performance data.

Think trackers embedded in balls or pucks, for instance, or chips in wristbands that can measure rowing strokes.

Harjeet Bajaj, a Hamilton business consultant in charge of the Americas Investment Playbook, says the hope is to be ready to announce a memorandum of understanding between the key players during Pan Am events next month.

“There is a huge opportunity for this region because we have all the pieces of the ecosystem,” he said, citing local amateur, varsity and professional sports teams, academic research and a network of support for startups. “This could become a centre of excellence.”

The playbook also includes tours focused on sectors: manufacturing; food and agriculture; and information, communications, technology and digital media. Events include a Hamilton Day (with a focus on life sciences), a bilateral trade forum and a tour of real estate and development opportunities in Hamilton.

Each tour ends with private box seats at Tim Hortons Field for a soccer game.

There will be an international trade and investment centre set up on the 21st floor of 100 King St. W. (the former Stelco Tower) for the duration of the Games.

The playbook is focused on eight nations: the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia. Program developers have considered strength in targeted sectors, political stability and economic growth in deciding on these countries.

“We have high expectations for this in terms of the number of delegates that come through and how much profile, how much media exposure that we get out of this,” said Jennifer Patterson, senior business development officer with Hamilton’s economic development department.

“I really appreciate this initiative because all the teams have sponsors. Some of the athletes have sponsors, too, and they will all be here,” said Kevin Jacobi, co-owner of WP Warehousing in St. Catharines.

His logistics business handles imports from Costa Rica and Brazil and will be highlighted on all the tours.

He praises the focused tours approach because it will allow visitors to maximize their time here and create opportunities for face-to-face networking.

“In business, whether it’s in Canada or internationally, the one on one is critical. You have to do business with people you trust and that you like. All the email in the world doesn’t allow that. This makes the world a bit smaller.”

Jacobi hopes there will be more “alignment” between Hamilton and Niagara in the future.

The Hamilton Port Authority is hosting a water tour of the port for Pan Am visitors and will take part in the international trade centre in a bid to win more international business from established and emerging markets.

“We want to position Hamilton as a really great gateway into the U.S. market,” said port spokesperson Larissa Fenn. “We think there are a lot more opportunities for the agri-food sector.”

A Deloitte study commissioned by the two regions identified Mexico as the preferred option in a field of seven countries for foreign direct investment. Hamilton already has a Mexican multinational in its midst. Grupo Bimbo owns some 90 per cent of Canada Bread.

“We are taking a very aggressive approach to this,” said Bajaj, CEO of Hamilton-based Tiara Canada, who was hired as a project co-ordinator to lead the program.

He said companies that come will be tracked for followup.

Beyond trading products, Bajaj says there are opportunities for businesses and organizations to help peers in some developing Pan Am nations with standards and policies. He said there is strong interest from Costa Rica in our health-care system, for instance.

“We may be able to sell them ideas and best practices that we already have, not just products.”

The program will extend beyond the Games, says Patterson.

“The idea is a legacy. Through the website, we’ll keep that moving forward. It’s the relationships and business development. The template we’ve created for this will be used for similar types of events.”

The $50,000 playbook budget will be split between the two municipalities, with many costs offset by sponsors.

“We have a frugal budget, but we will compete against bigger budget programs. This will not have a low-budget feel,” said Bajaj.

Results will not come overnight, cautioned Michael Marini, co-ordinator of marketing for Hamilton’s economic development division.

“When you look at what’s happening with the Pan Am Games, are you going to immediately have scores of investments that pop up right after the Pan Am Games? I don’t think anyone can say that will definitely happen. This is step one of emerging on the international front.”

Article courtesy of Meredith MacLeod, The Hamilton Spectator

Why newcomers are beginning to bypass Canada’s big cities

When Zernab Yazdani, an easygoing college graduate, talks about his childhood years in Riverdale – a cluster of aging apartment towers and townhouse complexes encircled by single-storey mini-malls – what tweaks his memories is not the ever-shifting mix of languages and cultures. Riverdale’s 7,500 residents were mostly born in other countries, as his parents were; only one in five speaks English as a first language.

Rather, it is the unspoiled nature just beyond the concrete. “It was a great place to grow up – we had tobogganing in the winter and trails in the forests, the lake right nearby and a lot of space to play.” The hiking trails, along with the air of mutual co-operation among the newcomers here, have drawn him back as an adult.

This could be one of the well-known high-rise immigrant districts on the outskirts of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver: Shop signs are in Russian, Spanish, Hindi and Urdu; windows above stores advertise Sikh and Hindu temples, Russian Orthodox churches and mosques; the public primary school, with so many kids from the Indian subcontinent, recently built a cricket pitch where a baseball diamond would usually go.

But it isn’t. The apartment Mr. Yazdani shares with his wife looks across a leafy ravine to Stoney Creek, a largely agricultural community. Riverdale, a fast-expanding enclave that is, by one measure, Canada’s third most immigrant-heavy settlement, is in the eastern end of Hamilton, far from the city’s old steel mills and a stone’s throw from the vineyards of Niagara Region.

Hamilton is doing everything it can to attract people like the Yazdanis. In fact, there is a growing effort by many mid-sized, post-industrial cities to spark a new wave of immigration. Also struggling, places such as Moncton, Trois-Rivières and Kitchener are doing everything they can to open their doors, from adopting their own de facto immigration policies to, in some cases, even going abroad to recruit new residents.

While the great majority of Canada’s immigrants still settle in greater Toronto and Vancouver, secondary cities have begun to grab an increasingly larger share.

In Canada’s rust belt, mass immigration is increasingly seen as the hope for recovery.

A thriving destination for newcomers in the twentieth century, Hamilton has been in a long period of decline since its heavy industry dried up. To city manager Chris Murray, a revived immigration program was the only way out.

“We kept keep running into the problems of an aging population and a shrinking workforce and the question of how we’re going to pay for things in the coming years with fewer taxpayers …,” he says. “So you’d better hope we’re going to have a growing economy. And how that can be possible without immigration is hard to imagine.”

So, in 2012, Global Hamilton was created – a new department dedicated to making Steel City an immigrant city once again. The following year, the department’s head, Sarah Wayland, published a two-volume Immigrant Attraction Action Plan that was enthusiastically adopted by a majority on city council.

The city then went to work, printing a newcomer’s guide to finding housing in 14 languages as well as launching a simultaneous-translation service so city resources could be obtained in dozens of languages. It also created an online “immigration portal” to hook immigrants up with opportunities and a “soft landing program” to hook foreign high-tech businesses up with McMaster University and area community colleges.

Reaching out, the city also advertised itself abroad and set up a program that draws on local immigrant networks to get the word out overseas about housing and small-business opportunities. And these plans are having some success. Newcomers are discovering not only housing bargains but often better opportunities.

Mr. Yazdani’s family is typical of this new pattern. His father moved here in the 1990s, after having immigrated from Lahore, Pakistan, because the rent was half as much as Toronto’s and because he wanted to upgrade his educational qualifications at Mohawk College.

Now 23, Zernab followed his father’s path: After high school, he moved to Toronto for college and got married, but then grew frustrated with the rent and isolation of the big city. So he moved back to Riverdale, found an apartment in one of its low-rent, somewhat run-down buildings and got a job with an online customer-assistance company.

Things aren’t perfect – most of the accommodation is rental and many tenants wish there were condos and houses to buy, and it’s a long walk to the bus station – but Riverdale “a really great place to live,” he says. “Everything is within a 30-minute bus ride, and you have great forests and ravines and trails and the rent is affordable.”

Other communities look districts like Riverdale with envy: Not all post-industrial cities are having an easy time attracting newcomers. It turns out that pleasant neighbourhoods and small-business advice, while helpful, may not be the big draw.

Margaret Walton-Roberts, a geographer with the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University, has analyzed the success and failure of local immigration policies in “second-tier cities.” Her focus is Kitchener-Waterloo, a former manufacturing hub that now faces challenges a lot like Hamilton’s – a smaller, older population that is straining the city’s fiscal resources.

She and other scholars have found that those with a decent chance of attracting and keeping immigrants are the ones with universities, colleges or teaching hospitals. There’s very little influx to cities without post-secondary education. So Hamilton (home to a university, a teaching hospital and two colleges) and Kitchener-Waterloo (two universities and a college) have done well – especially because immigrants tend to seek home ownership at high rates and find houses increasingly less affordable in big cities. A smaller place with a campus hits the sweet spot.

“The role of the university is a really interesting one,” Dr. Walton-Roberts says. “As we were doing the research into second-tier cities and interviewing new immigrants, what came out was this interesting intersection between new immigrants who were also students.”

A similar phenomenon is taking place south of the border. Neil Ruiz, a scholar with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, has found that the rust-belt cities of the northern U.S. that have avoided disaster since the factories shut down also are the ones with universities, because foreign students are the only group interested in settling. Some, such as Cleveland, have cast a wide net, setting up active immigration policies, including offices in foreign capitals, but only the students come.

The phenomenon is much larger in Canada, in part because Canadian policy allows student-visa immigrants to stick around after graduation, usually for as long as they’ve spent studying, and seek employment or start a business.

There’s a largely unnoticed trend behind this: Increasingly, immigrants to Canada are trying to use student visas as their way in. Because Ottawa is giving priority to post-secondary student visas as its favoured immigrant class, and because universities are bulking up abroad to compensate for a domestic enrolment slump, and because university towns such as Waterloo and Hamilton are pushing to attract immigrants, the student visa is seen as a golden ticket.

“We’ve identified this parallel process,” Dr. Walton-Roberts says, “of people applying to come to Canada to study at the same time as they were applying for immigrant status, and they were aware of the fact that finding a job and having your credentials recognized was somewhat difficult for immigrants to Canada.

“So they thought, ‘Okay, we’re going to come, we’re going to study, we’ll have a Canadian credential and then, if we get status, we can be ready to get into the labour market with a Canadian credential.”

And immigrant-heavy districts like Riverdale have become central to this phenomenon. As in big cities, smaller places find that formerly working-class neighbourhoods outside their core areas have become focal points for new Canadians.

McMaster geographer Richard Harris and his team recently published a report, Neighbourhod Change in Hamilton since 1970, which shows that the landing pads for immigration have shifted dramatically from the downtown districts around the steel mills to the low-cost housing neighbourhoods on the edge of town – taking with them the focus of poverty (for new immigrants, even with university credentials, start out quite poor).

This shows the new reality of immigrants: They aren’t industrial workers (although many still wind up in blue-collar work) but students, service workers, entrepreneurs and small businesspeople. They settle in places like Riverdale to have fellow immigrants around them for mutual support. But their dependence on more precarious forms of employment and risky small-business ventures means they also need help with education and social services to make their start.

The heartbreaking experience of seeing families lose their life savings in marginal business gambles, says Hamilton’s Mr. Murray, was one reason the city published new-business advice booklets in several languages and created a network to help immigrants with startups.

The smaller cities don’t offer the huge clusters of fellow expats who can help in the larger cities. But they are more stable and affordable.

“What’s different here is that most people want to stay,” says Mr.Yazdani, as he walks briskly home from the bus after a day of work.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s more of a tight-knit community than I had in Toronto. It’s a smaller place, but it feels like home.”

Article courtesy of Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail

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