By Brian McHattie
Hamilton’s economy, for decades proudly led by steel and heavy manufacturing, has been in the process of change for the past decade and a half.
Recently, the Conference Board of Canada awarded Hamilton top marks in having the highest economic diversification score in Canada. It would seem that we are headed in the right direction, but change can be difficult.
Historically, the ‘steel’ economy meant thousands of well-paying, secure jobs, with great benefits, available to several generations of Hamiltonians with significant municipal property taxes and fees paid by industry. Last week, city council’s steel committee met with Local 1005 Steelworkers as we work together to protect the pensions of 8,000 retired workers and their families.
Pensions are imperiled in the face of a deal signed by U.S. Steel and the federal government, kept secret due to the law known as the Canada Investment Act.
For the first time in 100 years, no steel is being made at the former Stelco Hilton Works, despite the presence of the largest blast furnace and best Castor Mill in the U.S. Steel portfolio.
City council believes steel-making in Hamilton remains viable and should be re-instated (particularly now with the declining Canadian dollar), as nothing compares to the large number of spin-off companies and jobs generated by the steel industry.
Today, the Hamilton economy is more and more driven by health sciences, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and innovation. Now our largest employers are Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University.
Exemplifying this is the West Hamilton Innovation District (WHID) with the McMaster Innovation Park at its centre on Longwood Road, site of the former Westinghouse plant.
When fully occupied, the WHID lands will feature 500,000 square feet of new construction, $23 million of new property assessment increases, $962,000 of new property taxes per year, a projection of 500 jobs with an annualized gross payroll of $40 million, and remediation of brownfield lands. In 2005, McMaster began construction of Innovation Park with a construction investment of $120 million in the ensuing five years, featuring the federal metallurgical lab CANMET, the McMaster Automotive Research Centre (including the electrical vehicle R&D centre), and 40 tenants in the former Westinghouse red brick office building. Commercialization of university research is key, with new companies developed to take products to market.
City council is also focusing on waterfront development, revitalizing our downtowns, expanding business parks and promoting arts and cultural industries.
Change can be divisive and worrisome, while at the same time, hopeful and exciting.
As with most things in life, a balance between old and new will serve Hamilton best in the months and years ahead.
Brian McHattie is the councillor for Ward 1, which includes Westdale.