At the turn of the new century, Stratford had a reputation for being quaint, cultured and out of the way, home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and a 90-minute drive from Toronto, the business capital of eastern Canada.
In fact, Stratford had always been an industrial town as well as an agricultural center. Strategic planning, beginning in 1997, has focused on preserving Stratford’s enviable quality of life while leveraging ICT to transform its economy.
For the past 15 years, a team led by Mayor Dan Mathieson has executed on that strategy with great intensity.The city-owned utility has built out a 70-km open access fiber network with a WiFi overlay, and signed sales agreements with commercial carriers to deliver triple-play and mobile services. The network enabled the Festival to significantly expand its online marketing, and plays a key role in the city’s tourism strategy, which builds on the Festival’s reputation to attract “foodies,” cyclists and other target groups throughout the year.At the same time, the city has used the network to slash its own telecom costs and power a smart meter program.
Adopting the triple-helix approach to innovation, it has turned Stratford into a test bed for technology pilots for such companies as Toshiba, Research in Motion and Cisco, and institutions including Clemson University and the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo), springboard for Canada’s tech industry. Digital media, however, is at the core of its strategy; the city persuaded UWaterloo to open a campus in Stratford with the support of OpenText to offer graduate and undergraduate studies and foster a startup culture.
The near-death of the North American auto industry pushed unemployment in Stratford to 7.9% as the city lost 1,600 mostly low-skilled jobs in manufacturing. But the city also gained 700 jobs requiring ICT skills, and has recently seen the revival of automotive create a labor shortage for the higher-skilled manufacturing jobs it retains. For an economy in transition, these trends are a serious validation that it is on the right track.