The Golden Horseshoe is the region 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 has deployed a 10-gigabit fiber network to serve city facilities, business, universities and hospitals and make the city more attractive to leading-edge employers. More than 160 Hamilton locations currently receive service. The company has also put forth a plan to bring 10-gigabit access to Hamilton’s rural community with funding from the Connect to Innovate Fund.
In March of 2017, HCE acquired Sunrise Interactive Net6, which is an organization that specializes in on-shore, near-shore, and offshore Internet solutions. HCE plans to use Sunrise’s expertise to deliver new hosting, disaster recovery, call center and data center options for the area.
Forging New Companies
City leaders have come to recognize that, in the past, the city wasted too much of potential of its educational institutions including McMaster University and Mohawk College. It has 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.
To further engage students in Hamilton, Mohawk College has partnered with the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board and other industry partners to start the College in Motion and City School programs. The College in Motion program places staff in various Hamilton high schools and community centers where they can provide information and support to students looking to enter post-secondary education. Staffers provide one-on-one counselling and advice, including identifying students’ areas of interest and connecting them with college faculty members for further support. The City School program provides free education opportunities to students in high-risk areas, including specialized learning programs, workshops and other services to help students seek post-secondary education. The program launched a new mobile classroom with over 1,000 square feet of learning space in the fall of 2017.
Creating New Land
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 city has also focused its efforts on cleaning and revitalizing the Hamilton Harbour with the help of the provincial and federal governments via the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan. Beginning in 1989, the city has built nine combined sewer overflow (CSO) tanks to capture untreated sanitary and storm sewage during storms to keep it from being returned to the water supply until treated. Hamilton has dramatically revitalized the shoreline through the Pier 4 Park and Bayfront Park developments in the West Harbour, transforming what was once an industrial landfill site into a beautiful recreational public space. The city is also currently working on wastewater treatment plant upgrades and a variety of other projects to fully restore and enhance the Harbour’s ecosystem, including commissioning a LEED-certified environmental laboratory at the Woodward Wastewater Treatment Plant.
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 equality 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.
In addition to providing computer access to households in need, Hamilton has focused on introducing local youth to digital learning at an early age. The Hamilton Code Clubs (HCC) is an initiative of the Industry Education Council (IEC) and Software Hamilton. Now in its third year of operation, HCC has had over 1,800 student participants aged 9 to 14 years old. The program teaches students core programing fundamentals during lunch breaks or after school, as well as bringing youth from across the city together to create video and data management games and websites and to program SPRK Sphero robots. HCC now includes weekend programs at the Hamilton Public Library and summer and robotics camps.
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.
Smart21 2016 | 2018