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The “Tech Cluster” discussion must include Hamilton

There is no doubt in my mind that when we are talking about tech in Canada and the future of the economy, Toronto and Waterloo will play a big role. It is one big ecosystem and it’s growing. There are some limitations to this growth and the big scary one is the relative lack of transportation infrastructure west of the Halton Region. This problem is making people choose between communities which isn’t good for growth.

A recent Huffington Post article where I was featured highlights the problem for technology (and just about any sector really) jobs. For myself I work in Toronto where there is a much larger concentration of research (17 000 grad students, $1.2B in research at UofT alone) which is important for me as I am constantly looking for founders with the potential to build scalable companies. With four kids the quality of life that I would like for my kids would be hard to provide in Toronto.

The quality of life issue is something that can be overcome by living in a lot of different communities outside of Toronto. You can have better access to and from Toronto to areas that have a similar quality of life as Waterloo in almost every direction away from Toronto but not west of Halton Region. Those other communities are 45-60 min train ride which is just another 15-30 min over the average commute if you live in Toronto.

The discussion on tech ecosystems has shifted from Waterloo or Toronto to a larger technology cluster of Toronto AND Waterloo — which is great! The problem, I think, is that only talking about Waterloo and Toronto for technology is limiting the stories being told of the amazing technology companies that exist in a broader cluster around Toronto.

If you are going to talk about a Technology cluster in Ontario it can’t be just about Waterloo, it must include the QEW corridor down to Niagara and it should put more emphasis on Hamilton. This area includes the regional municipalities of Halton, Hamilton, and Niagara (could also include Woodstock, Brant county, and Brantford). Combined they account for roughly 1.6 million people — nearly half the population is in Hamilton and it has the largest urban centre outside of Toronto in the south of the province. 

The conversation has to expand as I think it limits the economic growth by cutting off the story telling in the broader ‘technology’ sector. If all we talk about is Waterloo or Toronto we are distracting people from all the opportunity in a very broad area. Research, Software, and Hardware will be sprinkled around seeding growth everywhere. We also need to talk about and support the next evolution of technology manufacturing otherwise this resource rich country will keep exporting raw materials and be reliant on other countries to build our products.

This is not a zero-sum game.

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  1. Hamilton has some interesting tech stories that I feel are underappreciated… for example Mabel’s Labels e-commerce startup – 4 mom co-founders in a basement to 40 employees in 10 years, BraveNewCode – creators of WPTouch, a top 10 WordPress plugin used by millions, VIZIYA – an EAM solutions provider that has been in “fastest growing company lists” by revenue for the last 2 years in a row. There’s some up and coming interesting tech stories too, like for example TrendTrunk. Big funding and exit deals get people excited and we haven’t had those yet.

    Transportation is critically important infrastructure, especially given the fact that Hamilton-Toronto commute times are amongst the worst in North America. That said I feel there’s potential for Toronto startups to move down to Hamilton and take advantage of the talent, lower costs, lifestyle advantages, etc. People in Hamilton often wonder how to get the word out about our city. Companies like REfficient and Hifyre have moved here from Toronto and spoken highly of the decision and the city:

    In that same article Matthew made a great point:

    “One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve moved back to Hamilton is that people are always asking ‘How do we get people outside of Hamilton to recognize what we have here?’. People and businesses are noticing what’s going on. Stop worrying about other people’s opinions, keep working hard and providing great services and products, and they won’t be able to ignore us. Attention and recognition are a byproduct of success.”

    I think he’s got a point there… Hamilton should naturally be included in the discussion of a tech cluster if we earn it.

  2. Waterloo was the same way just 5-7 years ago. What changed it was RIM’s growth to 17 000 people.There was (and is) a very large marketing effort to tell the stories in Waterloo which Toronto doesn’t even have. It will be extra hard for Hamilton to get to the table unless people start thinking about it as a viable community. I think.

  3. Jesse, Kevin and others are doing some good things in Hamilton and we’ve been having fun building Silicon Halton into a grassroots community for Halton region.

    Silicon Peel is being nurtured, hopefully, into another tech community too.

    We need leaders (like you and Kevin) to help get the word out that Hamilton and Halton are and need to be magnets for technology professionals, entrepreneurs and fans.

  4. Big Big smile here…Jesse has captured what the next horizon is for us to expand our “tech corridor” and as noted by Kevin, that Toronto startups get MUCH more bang for their buck should they move to our own #HamOnt for things like lifestyle, housing, labour markets and the sheer joy of being a part of the whole gestalt of our city!!!