Hamilton attracted more industrial and commercial development than any other city in Canada over the past year, according to a prestigious executive magazine.
Site Selection magazine out of Atlanta, Ga., analyzed construction and jobs data to determine that Hamilton had 20 new or expansion projects with at least $1 million invested, at least 50 new jobs created or at least 20,000 new square feet between June 2011 and May 2012.
That total beat Quebec City, which had 16 projects and Toronto with 15.
Mayor Bob Bratina says he’s pleased but not surprised by Hamilton’s high showing.
“There’s a very positive mood around economic development in the city. We’re on everyone’s radar now,” he said.
“Our legendary affordability is rolling together with the growth of our research sector and our creative sector and our health-care sector.”
The fifth annual Canada’s Best Locations ranking is published in the magazine’s September issue Thursday.
Hamilton was ranked second on the Site Selection list a year ago (with 21 projects) and fifth two years before.
The local projects include Maple Leaf’s investment in a new meat processing plant, the expansion of Activation Labs in Ancaster, the construction of a new automotive research centre at McMaster Innovation Park, Bermingham Foundation Solutions’ expansion in the former Lakeport brewery, and a number of projects at Hamilton’s port, including a Biox expansion and new grain handling facilities built by Parrish & Heimbecker and Richardson International.
Neil Everson, who heads Hamilton’s economic development and real estate department, says this year’s corporate development numbers are shaping up to be strong again. They include Tuesday’s Navistar announcement, McMaster’s downtown medical campus and two new hotels in the core.
Industrial building permits are up over last year, Everson says, and both the industrial vacancy rate and the downtown office vacancy rate have dropped significantly.
“We’re riding a high and we need to run as hard as we can with it to make sure we make the most of these opportunities,” Bratina said.
Site Selection is delivered to 44,000 corporate executives and consultants around the world who make decisions about where to locate new plants or expansions.
“This is marketing and advertising we can’t buy,” said Everson.
“It supports our message that Hamilton is a great location.”
The results show the efforts of council and city staff to streamline its project approval process in order to boost nonresidential development and create jobs, says Bratina.
“It’s like football. Sometimes it’s the attitude in the locker-room that determines whether you’re a winner or a loser. We have a great attitude in our locker-room.”
Adam Bruns, managing editor of Site Selection, says Hamilton’s “comprehensive approach” to economic development is having results.
“They don’t think there is one thing to save them. There is a commitment to industrial park development and site readiness, there is a strong, good old-fashioned industrial base and there is involvement with the university community.”
Bruns also praised the Hamilton Calling program, which communicates directly with hundreds of businesses yearly to understand their needs and plans.
“Business retention is really important … I would point others to the Hamilton program because it leads directly to job creation.”
City officials don’t always know they are being scouted for a new plant, says Everson. Site selectors usually work under the radar, visiting potential locations and mining city websites for data before making any contact with local staff.
Everson says site selectors typically look at business infrastructure such as transportation links and local labour force and the cost of doing business in a municipality in terms of taxes, development charges and utilities. They also look at a city’s momentum in terms of development, he says.
“I think the big commitment of Maple Leaf here likely made a good impression.”
Some people might be surprised that Hamilton beat Toronto numbers, but Everson says those cranes spotted all over Canada’s biggest city are largely building residential units.
“When we started to make the rankings, people were surprised that Hamilton had the numbers. But now people are not surprised. The word’s out, and it’s nice that we’re not putting it out. It’s a third party looking at our data.”
As part of its Canadian rankings, Site Selection names the top 10 economic development departments, without ranking them. For the third year running, Hamilton’s economic development team makes the list.
Site Selection determined that Ontario is the most competitive province, followed by British Columbia and Quebec.
Top Canadian cities
According to data compiled by Site Selection magazine, the following cities were tops for corporate facility investment. The criteria were at least $1 million invested, at least 50 new jobs created or at least 20,000 new square feet of development. The city is followed by the number of projects between June 2011 and May 2012.
Quebec City 16
Source: Conway Data New Plant Database
Top economic development groups
In alphabetical order:
• Calgary Economic Development
• Canada’s Technology Triangle
• Edmonton Economic Development Corp.
• City of Hamilton Economic Development and Real Estate Division
• London Economic Development Corp.
• Enterprise Greater Moncton
• Initiatives Prince George
• Quebec International
• Quinte Economic Development Commission
• Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority