Downtown Hamilton is a ‘Happening’ place

July 04, 2014

Could ‘Steeltown’ be a player in the new knowledge economy?  In case you missed an article in the Hamilton Spectator, Meredith MacLeod has pointed out some interesting statistics.

The city’s core is adding jobs and residents — a total of 2,700 since 2001. More than 1,600 businesses now employ 23,400 people, making average salaries well above the city and provincial averages. The majority of those jobs are in government or professional, scientific or financial fields. More downtown people now work in creative sectors such as design, music, digital media and the arts than in education and manufacturing combined.  More than three-quarters of the jobs downtown are full-time and the average salary was $53,926, according to 2006 data… well above the city and provincial averages of $39,500 and $37,700.

A report, Working in the Core, commissioned by the city to shed light on Hamilton’s downtown employment calls the core an “economic powerhouse” and says “downtown will be Hamilton’s calling card to attract next generation talent and provide diverse and well-paying economic opportunities.”  This is good marketing information for the city’s economic development team says Glen Norton, acting director of the city’s downtown and community renewal division, and it paints a new picture of the core for the major retailers and other employers the city wants to attract. Norton also says, attracting university and college campuses downtown, to keep more young talent in Hamilton, is one of his department’s targets. He offered that McMaster University is searching for a site for a digital media school.

This evidence of new vibrancy of the downtown and how it’s growing is of particular importance to companies like Nike or Lululemon or Apple and subsequently residential real estate investors.

The city must now treat the downtown as a business park to be developed, and focus on helping existing clusters grow. That includes, making strategic investments in light-rail transit and a creative catalyst that will attract knowledge-based companies and workers.

No one needs to tell Josh Gordon, 24, that Hamilton’s downtown is a great place to work. He’s one of the much-sought-after “next generation” of talent. His age group is highly mobile and motivated by quality of life considerations more than job openings, say experts.  A designer at Kitestring Creative Branding Studio on James Street South for close to a year, Gordon says he feels connected to the city by living and working downtown.  “I love the character of the downtown. There is so much personality … Downtown is exciting and full of energy. There are so many shops, restaurants and theatre. Everything is always alive.”

The ‘Working in the Core’ downtown study was also based on a 2010 door-to-door survey of businesses in the area bounded by Hunter, Queen and Cannon streets and Victoria Avenue, and both sides of James Street from the CN railway to Charlton Avenue.  The survey data, combined with population statistics, leads to an estimated density of 189 residents and jobs per hectare in 2010. The city’s official plan, based on provincial urban growth targets, has set a goal of 250 residents and jobs per downtown hectare by 2031. The city needs to add about 12,000 people living or working downtown over the next 20 years to meet the target and will fall short if it doesn’t increase the rate of growth of about 300 per year over the last decade.

Paul Bedford, Toronto’s former chief planner, says Hamilton “lends itself easily to intensification in housing and jobs. Light-rail transit is the glue that could spark it and hold it all together.”