Creative industry jobs flowing into downtown Hamilton
A new report from the city’s economic development department shows a gain of 695 jobs in the core, led by big increases in the creative, educational and scientific areas. Those boosts were partly offset by the loss of 375 positions mainly in the finance and government sectors. That’s a net gain of 320.
“This tells us that a good trend is continuing downtown,” said Glen Norton, urban renewal manager with the city’s economic development office. “This is going to be good information for people looking to make a decision about where to locate their businesses.”
This is the second time the city has gathered core area employment numbers and the first time the report has been expanded to include the suburban downtowns of Dundas, Stoney Creek, Ancaster, Waterdown and Binbrook.
Mayor Bob Bratina said the statistics show a trend he has been observing for the past three or four years, reinforced by the fact tax revenues from downtown properties have risen more than $1 million since 2005.
“I have to relate part of it to our incentive programs and part to changes in perception,” he said.
On the perception side, Bratina noted institutions like the McMaster Innovation Park bring new people to Hamilton, opening their eyes to a city they haven’t really seen.
“New people beget new people and the more people sample us, the more word gets out,” he said. “We’re starting to get our act together — we were bad news across the country a couple of years ago because of the stadium thing, but now we’ve put that to bed.”
In total, the study showed 23,925 jobs at 1,574 locations in the Downtown Hamilton Urban Growth Centre — the area roughly bounded by Victoria, Queen, Hunter and Cannon streets, plus James Street between the bay and base of the Mountain.
While 25 per cent of downtown jobs are held by government workers (federal, provincial and municipal) the majority of employment is in the private sector.
Norton said over the past decade, downtown has gained an average of 150 jobs a year. The 2011 figures, however, tell him the trend is gaining momentum.
“Who knows, maybe next year it will be even more,” he said.
Norton said the growth of jobs in the core is being fed by several factors — a good stock of affordable office space, no lost time and productivity while workers commute, government incentives and the chance for workers to afford a better life in Hamilton than they could get in Toronto.
“I’d just hate to think what you’d have to earn to afford a home in Toronto now, where the average price is $400,000,” he said. “Here you can get a really good place to live for $250,000.”
The growth in core-area employment is being mirrored by a rise in people living there — drawn by the chance to walk to work from a condo apartment. That increase in residents is drawn from both ends of the age scale — younger workers attracted to the core’s new animation studios and offices, and empty-nesters downsizing from big suburban houses.
“A lot of people of this current generation have a different dream than their parents did,” Norton said. “They don’t want the suburban dream; they want the urban lifestyle. That’s why we’re seeing many North American inner cities come back to life.”
The growth in core area jobs was exciting news for city councillor Jason Farr, who represents the core.
“I’ve been doing somersaults over this news for the last hour,” he said. “We’ve always said you don’t have to be on Bay Street or in a trendy Toronto neighbourhood to do business, and this shows people are buying into that message.”
Farr also had praise for the economic development department and especially the urban renewal section.
“These results show the urban renewal division is better than it has ever been,” he said. “They’ve done a terrific job of getting the word out.”
Coupled with the growth in employment, the downtown core is seeing a slow but steady drop in its office vacancy rate. January’s rate was 12 per cent compared to 13.2 per cent for the same period in 2010 and 19 per cent four years ago.
“It’s clear the more people we have working down there, the more space they’re going to need,” Norton said. “We’re still a couple of years from seeing any new construction or from where owners can raise their rents, but the pace is good.”
The going rate of top-grade office space in the core today is between $23 and $27 per square foot, about half the rent for comparable space in the GTA.
The city report shows downtown employment in the creative arts sector grew by 20 per cent last year to just over 2,000 jobs while government employment in all forms fell 2.7 per cent to 5,715. Creative industry growth includes animation studios locating or expanding in the core, such as Pipeline Studios, Huminah Huminah, Chuck Gammage and Elliott Animation.
In the educational sector, 165 new jobs were added, including the National Academy of Health and Business, College Boreal, the existing McMaster Downtown Centre and the reopened Dr. J. Edgar Davey Public School.
The survey also found over half of the businesses in the cores of Hamilton and its suburbs had fewer than five employees. In Ancaster, 835 jobs at 105 locations were identified. Binbrook was home to 115 jobs in 23 locations; Dundas has 168 locations accounting for 1,005 jobs. Stoney Creek supports 565 jobs at 107 locations while Waterdown has 186 locations providing 1,235 jobs.