According to a prominent trade magazine in the U.S., Hamilton now leads Canadian cities in new industrial and commercial projects.

Site Selection Magazine in Atlanta reports that Hamilton generated the highest number of expansion projects during the past year that have drawn at least $1 million, created at least 50 new jobs, or made use of at least 20,000 square feet.

Analysts ranked cities based on new projects mostly in the private sector that would attract potential investors.

Norm Schleehahn, manager of business development at the City of Hamilton, says the university’s main contribution to Hamilton’s 2012 ranking is its new automotive resource centre (MARC) at McMaster Innovation Park (MIP).

The federal government has injected $11.5 million into the new facility, which will cover approximately 80,000 square feet of space in a former industrial warehouse across from the MIP Atrium.

For the most part, MARC will be a laboratory facility to accelerate research in the automotive sector, focusing on hybrid vehicles.

The project costs $26 million in total and is expected to employ 120 to 150 people.

McMaster’s downtown health campus, to open two years from now, will make the list of projects for 2013, Schleehahn said.

Nick Bontis, professor in the DeGroote School of Business, says the City is pushing forward with downtown renewal and McMaster faculty and students are leading the charge.

Bontis said facilities like MIP offer researchers a bridge between doing research in the lab and finding opportunities to commercialize ideas in the marketplace.

“That’s why McMaster University acts as an engine of growth for the manufacturing sector,” he said.

“We’re sitting on a large supply of potential commercialization projects,” he continued. “But we don’t have enough horsepower or capacity for faculty to both do the research and commercialize the research. That’s where we need the community to get involved.”

MIP, a $69 million off-campus facility used mainly for conferences, is in the midst of discussions with private developers to build a hotel at the park. Plans haven’t been finalized but the hotel would accommodate researchers, entrepreneurs and the general public.

In addition, the federal and provincial governments have invested heavily in the university’s health and engineering research facilities.

A grant announcement in early August revealed the province would provide $4.6 million for 14 projects in the research sector.

Over the past two years, McMaster has received $38.5 million through the Knowledge Infrastructure economic stimulus program for post-secondary infrastructure enhancements across Canada.

$22 million will help create new research space and stimulate increased production of medical and industrial isotopes at McMaster’s nuclear research facilities. The remaining funds will help build two new centres for cancer and spinal cord research.

“Hamilton has been a leader in the manufacturing industry but our economy is diversifying. There are a lot of businesses in the city that are thriving,” Schleehahn said.

He added that the city’s new status as an investment hotspot provides a reason for students to consider staying in Hamilton post-graduation.

A survey conducted by the McMaster Students Union last year concluded that only 24 per cent of total students polled (of which 24 per cent were originally from Hamilton) would look for a job in Hamilton after graduating.

37 per cent said they would take a job in the city only after looking elsewhere.

Previously ranked second and fifth, Hamilton beat Quebec City (16 new projects), Toronto (15 new) and Montreal (13 new) for the top spot in the ‘Canadian Top Metros’ annual ranking.

Among the 20 new projects that emerged in Hamilton this past year are: Maple Leaf’s new meat processing plant, expansion of Activation Labs in Ancaster, expansion of facilities at Hamilton pier and new grain handling facilities built by Parrish & Heimbecker and Richardson International.

In late August, Hamilton was also named the ‘top location in which to invest in Ontario’ by the Real Estate Investment Network of Canada (REIN).

REIN Founding Partner Don Campbell said in a news release that the city intends to work in tandem with the growth occurring at McMaster University in order to “spark an entrepreneurial spirit in the city.”

Criteria that REIN used to evaluate cities include: the average rate of growth of income, population and job creation as compared to the provincial average. Other factors were: number of major employers, economic growth atmosphere created by political leadership, ability of infrastructure to handle growth and major transportation improvements.

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