Beyond Steel: Hamilton’s Diversifying Economy
What makes Canada an attractive destination for foreign investors?
Firstly, Canada has a stable political environment. It is well-organized, diverse, and has reasonably low crime rates. It is an attractive option for a lot of foreign investors who might be working in environments that are not quite as conducive as Canada is in terms of its culture and quality of life.
From a technical perspective, Canada has 14 trade agreements with 51 countries. One-and-a-half billion consumers are wrapped up in that with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of about $49.3 trillion in terms of trade investments.
There is also the question of talent, which is inherent in Canada. Fifty-eight percent of our population aged 25 to 64, the working-age, has graduated from post-secondary institutions. We also have great strength in our diversity. Our multicultural society is not perfect but it has embraced diversity. We bring people in from other countries and celebrate their culture. We do not require them to become Canadian or Canadianized, but we require them to be active participants in our economy and bring their cultures with them so that we can make them part of the fabric of our country.
“Canada is well-placed to be an attractive, stable, and culturally diverse place where investors can look to expand their product or company.”
From all of those perspectives, Canada is well-placed to be an attractive, stable, and culturally diverse place where investors can look to expand their product or company.
What are Hamilton’s unique selling points in terms of attracting foreign investment?
Hamilton’s strengths are in line with Canada’s. However, Hamilton has had a journey of being a one-industry town related to steel to now having diversified to such a degree that we are considered to be the most diversified economy in the country by the Conference Board of Canada. That diversity is a huge benefit because it allows us to work in many different spaces in the job-creation world.
We are also geographically well-located among some very large markets, not only the Golden Horseshoe, which we are at the apex of, and the Greater Toronto Area, but also the border to the south and west. We are looking at a market of over 450 million people. We also have an active lake port which is the largest lake port in the country by volume. The largest airport by cargo volume happens to be in Hamilton as well. We have enormously robust rail connections that service all of that area as well as great intersecting road networks that allow people to access markets quite efficiently.
“Hamilton has the key ingredients for the movement of goods, becoming a great hub for that particular purpose.”
Hamilton has the key ingredients for the movement of goods, becoming a great hub for that particular purpose. That certainly helps with the diversification of our economy but it also gives people the sense that the resources are here to help them establish a solid business network.
What are the main industries driving Hamilton’s future economy?
Because of diversity, the list is quite long and it continues to include advanced manufacturing. That is still 25% of our opportunity and employment base. Agribusiness and food and beverage processing have also grown a lot. Our landmass is still 75% agricultural and our port is taking advantage of the movement of those agricultural products. We are seeing more agricultural processing facilities come to Hamilton because of our ability to move the goods and because the raw materials are here for them to produce their goods as well.
“Hamilton is well-positioned in terms of producing intensive research in the life sciences that lead to products being made here.”
The life sciences are huge. We are seeing enormous growth in that area, especially on the research side. There is McMaster University and the life science cluster, which is growing significantly, as well as McMaster Innovation Park (MIP). The most intensive research university in the country happens to be McMaster. Hamilton is well-positioned in terms of producing intensive research in the life sciences that lead to products being made here.
We have creative industries as well as a goods movement industry, which is very robust thanks to our multitude of transportation networks. Lastly, we are also involved in tourism. We are not Niagara Falls or New York City but we do have a fair bit of conventions to the City of Hamilton and we have the appropriate facilities to house them here.
All of those industries are part of the overall employment opportunities that exist in the City of Hamilton. We are also starting to work on building Class A office space, which is something that the city does not have a lot of. That is largely the realm of Toronto, but a lot of the head offices in Toronto are looking for alternative places where the movement of people is a little easier and the quality of life is a little less intense. Hamilton is certainly well poised to take advantage of that.
Which foreign investments made in Hamilton would you highlight?
On the life sciences side, we have seen a number of companies gravitate towards Hamilton, such as Fusion Pharmaceuticals, Stryker, and Affinity Biologicals. There is also Wescam, which is not necessarily in the life science space but is certainly in the technology space and is now known as L3Harris. They work in the military space and surveillance products worldwide and they are looking at our location and educated workforce.
The training centres in Mohawk College are doing some excellent work matching up future opportunities with the kind of training they are doing. All of that starts to lead towards not only the growth of the life sciences but in technology too. McMaster is a leader in life sciences research, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are taking a lead role in pandemic research now and have set up a pandemic institute. That whole space is nothing but opportunity and we have an edge over everyone else.
There is also a German institute with many satellites around the world that has also landed here in Hamilton. They are focused on life science research and they have attracted a whole host of fledgling research companies to gravitate towards the MIP area as part of that research and innovation ecosystem. That is going to serve this city exceptionally well.
What is the relationship between academia and industry like in Hamilton?
We realized some time ago that if we intend to be successful as a municipality and if Hamilton wants to move away from being a one-industry town, we will need ongoing collaboration with the major institutions of our community. That includes Hamilton Health Sciences, Mohawk College, McMaster University, the city itself, and even the steel industries as they are legacy here.
Hamilton City and McMaster had a lead role in creating the innovation park in a collaborative effort. It continues to grow and they have bigger plans now in terms of what the next iteration of MIP will look like and do.
Mohawk College and its mHealth & eHealth Development and Innovation Centre are doing digital health applied research and provide advanced skills and developed services. They are also focused on the health sector. Mohawk actually started as a health sector college and has now morphed back into that space. Although they teach many other things, their predominant focus is still eHealth and health innovation.
What would you pitch to foreign investors as to why Hamilton should be their destination for investment?
Hamilton is where innovation goes to work. Hamilton has a strong industrial presence in Canada but we have also vastly increased our knowledge base and diversified our economic sectors. We are welcoming more innovative companies and global brands, with a central location between the US and Toronto, a rich suite of incentive programs, a myriad of ways to move people and goods, and the land and facilities to welcome life science investments. Hamilton is one of Canada’s leading economies and we are fully prepared to welcome foreign direct investment here. We have the tools, willingness, and the welcome mat out. We look forward to working with anyone who wants to land themselves in the City of Hamilton.