Downtown Bureau

More Like Hamilton

Despite the knee-jerk cynicism and Hammer-hating rants, our economic prospects are looking pretty good.

By Jason Leach
Published October 24, 2010

this article has been updated

In the world of news and public discourse, it is always easy to find issues to complain about and to rant over. However, I think most citizens would agree that a parade of good news would be most welcome. After all, we care about our communities and want to see a successful future being developed.

2010 is shaping up to be one of those great news years in our city. For the first time our city's history, Hamilton is about to surpass $1 billion in building permits for the year.

Our previous record was $820 million in 2008, before the economic recession began. The very fact that we are about to shatter $1 billion, while the rest of the world slowly struggles to cope with the ongoing recession, is absolutely a good news story and one that we should all be proud of.

In the past five years, Hamilton has added 6,000 net new jobs. Again, this is positive news in the face of tough economic times.

I certainly don't intend to pretend that there aren't people with serious needs in our city, and everything is just fine. We all know of the struggles and the huge need that continues to exist in Hamilton.

But along with many other wise investments, creating jobs and increasing the commercial/industrial tax base is a large piece of the poverty puzzle. It will be a great day for Hamilton when we can ease the tax burden on home owners, especially those in the lower city who pay the highest tax rates in the region.

Compare Brampton, Mississauga

To that end, we received more great news yesterday during Bill Kelly's 'Unleashed' show from City Hall. (You can listen to it: October 22, Hour 2, Segment 3.)

The Director of Economic Development for the City mentioned to Bill that they regularly hear comments in the news and online blogs that Hamilton needs to be more like surrounding regions when it comes to building our tax base.

He then informed listeners that in 2009 the City of Brampton had $160 million in commercial/industrial building permits. That same year, the City of Mississuaga also had roughly $160 million in industrial/commercial building permits.

The City of Hamilton had $309 million in commercial/industrial building permits in 2009 and we are on track for the same in 2010.

I don't care what your political leaning is or what your preferred method of economic development is. The fact that Hamilton had more commercial/industrial growth than Mississuaga and Brampton combined is fantastic news.

And we're going to repeat it again in 2010.

Earlier this week I encouraged citizens to get informed on real issues and be sure to make your vote count on Monday.

Listening to CHML on Fridays when Bill Kelly visits various companies, educational institutions and experts is quite different from the rest of the week, when we have to endure rants encouraging listeners to "vote for any idiot, so long as they aren't the incumbent", or the "sky is falling in Hamilton" routine that has become the norm due to our city's tough go over the past few decades.

Good news simply doesn't garner the calls or emails that crazy rants or bad news does.

On The Cusp - For Real

The other day I had the pleasure of meeting David Premi, the architect of our fabulous new library/market complex, and he made the comment, "We are on the cusp" when referring to the rapid sell-out of new condo/loft projects that has been taking place in our downtown area recently.

For years, people have said "we're on the cusp" more out of optimism and a view towards our future.

Today, such statements can be made with the backing of sold out lofts, thousands of new jobs, $1 billion in building permits, commercial/industrial development that is outpacing neighbouring municipalities, great rankings from the Conference Board of Canada and EcDev rankings across North America.

Maybe yelling and screaming makes for great radio, but in the real world Hamilton is in the midst of our most successful period in many years, probably decades.

We've got a long way to go, but it's sure nice to realize that we're turning the corner and appear to be heading in the right direction. The next time someone pulls out the tired old line about how we need to be "more like Mississuaga", let them know the facts and suggest that these days Mississuaga wishes they were a little more like Hamilton.

Update: added link to audio for Bill Kelly's radio program. You can jump to the updated paragraph.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 07:57:16

Thanks for the great news Jason. It's particularly interesting to hear the comments from Bill Kelly of CHML, who I've religiously avoided for years precisely because of uninformed and closed-minded ranting.

I too have this sense that we truly are on the cusp... I've mentioned to friends recently that the successful condo developments are getting more and more frequent, and getting closer and closer to the core. It really seems to be snowballing, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if at some point in the next several years there's a condo explosion downtown, and the parking lots start disappearing (fingers crossed).

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By Enterprise (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 08:59:37

Excellent article Jason. I love this city and it's good to hear that we are doing so well. We need more coverage of positive things like this.

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 10:39:25

So the status quo is actually kind of awesome?

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By Mark-Alan Whittle (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 11:10:13

Net new jobs" is a phrase that means an increase overall. Such as, "we're going to lose 10,000 jobs, but gain 20,000 jobs - so there's 10,000 "net new" jobs". If things are so rosey, freezing property taxes should be easy. Those other cities have an advantage, zero debt, unlike Hamilton, which is $300 million in the hole. Apples to oranges, that's Hamilton, get used to it. As to voting, it's our civic duty to vote, as everything is local, IMHO.

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By ChrisAllen (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 12:02:38

Good news is great to hear but like the article stated, there is a long way to go. Let's never get complacent. We have to keep working hard and pushing our politicians (at every level) to keep working in order to make sure Hamilton takes it rightful place as one of the truly great cities in Canada. When I walk the streets I see a glorious past and a glimmer of hope for the future. I am an optimist so I think the glimmer will only get brighter but all of us need to do our part. Start tomorrow by taking the 15 minutes to vote, especially those in lower income area...they have the most to lose!

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 15:59:51


There is nothing wrong with the city carrying a debt as long as it is managed properly. The debt of the city of Hamilton is no worse than most cities of similar size and age.

Places like Brampton and Mississauga for the most part are fairly new city's. Mississauga is just getting to the point where their infrastructure is going to have to be replaced. They are already talking about %10 property tax increases there. In the next ten years things are going to even out between cities as far as property taxes are concerned. Once that happens this city is going to be in a good position to compete once again.

We are ahead of the game, since we have already experienced what they are about to go through.

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By Paul (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 16:04:56

I think that is only one side of the picture. How many businesses closed, laid people off etc? Building permits show growth but what kind of growth? Sprawl is growth but is more cancerous to the whole than sustainable development such as using existing resources and intensifying.

How much of this new construction necessary? An endless unfettered growth of new housing will only raise the need for land we cannot afford to lose and provide jobs when we cannot support the people we have? Housing also will do little to lower the crippling taxes many face. Will the new jobs be just those in the construction of the new buildings or will they provide livable wage employment?

Was the building in the city where iti is most useful or further on the fringes in anticipation of spawling messes like Aerotropolis?

I am not saying there is not good signs in the data used in the article there is, but we need to be careful before being overly pleased with ourselves and downplay the troubles many continue to suffer in our city.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2010 at 16:15:56

Good news but a little suspicious. Investors understand how CEO's release good news as stock prices peak and bad news at the bottom. Are politico's now doing something similar? Even if not, news perfectly legit, is this the crest. The US boomed just before it crashed. What happens when they crash again, or more likely they trash the greenback to protect their markets and erase obligations like pensions. Recall that when the US sneezes....... We need to know more.

The 300m$ commercial can probably be accounted for by malls such as the new Center on Barton ($100m). I thought RTHrs are anti-mall, pro streetscape???? Malls might be efficient timewise but doesn't that mean fewer retail employees than local stores? How much is institutional? Great except they pay no municipal tax. How much is infrastructure = one time boost from QE1? Need to know more.

The 700m balance must be residential. Is this infill (good) or sprawl (bad)? Need to know more.

Optimism maybe, but lets not count chickens before they hatch.

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By Auhnuld13 (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 16:25:55

Jason Leach has shown, not only in his latest article, but throughout his submissions, that he is what we need for this city. Hamilton needs more of Jason Leach, his ideas and leadership. My hope is that one day, we will see him in the captain's chair at City Hall.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 16:26:22

Great Article Jason,

We need good news stories once in a while. I understand why some people may take the building permit numbers with a grain of salt. How much of the commercial permits are hospitals, schools, and civic institutions? It may be too early to tell, but I don't think our building is associated with pop. increases. I think people are critical of Hamilton because we haven't had huge pop. increases in many years. Although an aging population is troublesome, I dont think our slow population growth is a problem. I don't know who said it first (R. Florida?), but population growth and economic growth are not always the same thing (Milton comes to mind here in Ontario). Nevertheless, these kinds of numbers are nice to see, and even nicer given the recession that we've been through.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 16:26:45

Jason >> I don't care what your political leaning is or what your preferred method of economic development is. The fact that Hamilton had more commercial/industrial growth than Mississuaga and Brampton combined is fantastic news.

Hamilton 2008 Tax Rates

Residential - 1.6459%
Commercial - 4.5730%
Industrial - 6.4402%


R - 1.5876% , 0.9645 of 2008
C - 4.3239% , 0.9455 of 2008
I - 6.1243% , 0.9509 of 2008

Mississauga 2008 Tax Rates

R - 1.0348%
C - 2.6406%
I - 2.9882%


R - 1.0176% , 0.9834 of 2008
C - 2.5185% , 0.9537 of 2008
I - 2.8839% , 0.9651 of 2008

As you can see, from 2008 to 2009, Hamilton cut tax rates on each dollar of property investment more than Mississauga. The result? More investment. Big surprise. When the city taxes investment less, it actually gets more. And to think, all of this without LRT or a Pan Am stadium. Just tax cuts.

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By GiveItUp (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 17:50:33

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By steve (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 20:50:32

@ giveitUp - If you think everything is the same (or worse) than it was four years, how heavy was that rock you just crawled out from under? Change is good my friend, but not if you're going to change into an old pair of dirty underwear.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 21:13:20

Change is good my friend, but not if you're going to change into an old pair of dirty underwear.

It's comments like this that make life worth living.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2010 at 22:25:53

I'm glad the numbers show we do better, but even if they didn't, you really couldn't pay me enough to move to Brampton or Mississagua.

Comment edited by Undustrial on 2010-10-24 21:27:12

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2010 at 22:25:53

Does anyone know where the drop in Hamilton's poverty rate from 20 to 17 percent comes from in this article?

If true, that's an amazing accomplishment. Still far too high, but that's amazing.

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:55:34

A Smith, much as I am inclined to agree with your comments I am puzzled by your tax tables.

How do you explain Hamilton's growth despite this cities taxes still (after falling from '08 rates) being about double that of Mississauga's commercial and industrial rates? Given your faith in the invisible hand should the spoils not go to the city with the lowest rate?

On a broader note please explain to me sometime how you reconcile faith in the invisible hand with the invisible hand that is picking your pocket? As an example the mortgage bond scandal south of the border, to name but one example of the way greed rushes in to fill an ethical vacuum. I think an update is required of your political/economic beliefs Mr Smith. Naivety exists on both ends of the political spectrum. Much as you reject bankrupting socialist schemes for good reason; the restraining hand of governance is needed to keep the invisible one from robbing us all blind.

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