The Golden Horseshoe is the region of that shape that bends around the westernmost end of Lake Ontario in Canada. At the center of the horseshoe’s curve is Hamilton, a city of 520,000 known for industry, education and cultural diversity, having the third-largest foreign-born population in the country. Located 70 kilometers southwest of Toronto (the 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year), Hamilton was once known as the Steel Capital of Canada, producing 60% of the nation’s steel. It is also a successful lake port city and operates an airport that saw passenger traffic grow tenfold from 1996 to 2002. A 30-year economic development plan begun in 2003 set the goal of creating a massive aerotropolis industrial park around that airport to capitalize on its success.
From Steel to Fiber
Being an industrial city in the broadband economy, however, has its challenges. Its biggest steel producer nearly went bankrupt before returning to profitability in 2004. It subsequently sold out to US Steel, which decided to close its Hamilton operation in 2013. Hamilton’s economic development effort now focuses on playing to its 21st Century strengths. In 2014, it established HCE Telecom as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the city. HCE is deploying a 10-gigabit fiber network to serve city facilities, business, universities and hospitals and make the city more attractive to leading-edge employers. HCE also provides energy solutions, and has set a goal of attracting data centers with a combination of high-quality telecom and energy.
Forging New Companies
City leaders have also come to recognize that, in the past, the city wasted too much of potential of itseducational institutions including McMaster University and Mohawk College. It worked with university leaders to open McMaster Innovation Park and a second incubator downtown, which together house 23 startups focused on computer hardware and consumer technology. In September 2015, it opened a third facility called The Forge, which provides university students and community youth with entrepreneurship training, access to prototyping and production facilities, and help in starting their own businesses. The city is also in early talks with hospitals, academic institutions and the Chamber of Commerce on developing a life sciences cluster to leverage its strong hospital network and health research organizations.
Creating New Land for Development
With a lack of new land for development, Hamilton has focused on remediation of industrial brownfield sites. Through an innovative program called ERASE, it offers financial incentives to companies to clean up and repurpose polluted sites. From 2011 to 2014, the city approved more than 130 development grant applications worth more than C$20 million. Redevelopment underway has already generated C$3 million in construction and created 650 jobs.
The decline of industrial employment has stranded workers who do not possess the skills and access to technology to compete in the broadband economy. A Hamilton charity operates a successful digital equity program called GreenBYTE that collects end-of-life computer systems, refurbishes them, and provides them to low-income households at no cost. It also provides computer certification training to low-income individuals. Since 2001, GreenBYTE has donated more than 12,000 computers to households, helped 100 graduates receive computer certifications and upgraded an after-school computer lab for the city.
Geography, trade, industry and hard work built Hamilton’s successful economic past. Its future will leverage those same assets to create an economy that can prosper in the digital era.