A new report from TD Economics warns cities like Windsor could be left behind as high paying technology jobs cluster in Canada’s biggest centres.
The third report by the Canadian bank’s research arm focused on the influence of technology on the economy, titled The Digital Divide Between Canadian Cities, cautions Canada “is developing fertile ground” for stark contrasts in richer and poorer regions as seen in the U.S. between its coastal cities and rural interior.
The CEO of the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation, Stephen MacKenzie, stresses the report hasn’t caught local leaders off guard and work is being done to grow Windsor’s technology sector.
“I’m confident that today we’re going in the right direction,” said MacKenzie. “We think we have the resources here, access to capital, university support, access to companies, access to Detroit and Toronto.”
The TD report notes there is “less evidence” Canada will reflect the same regional income inequality as the U.S. but also highlights the need for “greater focus” to address the shift in economic fortunes.
High paying technology jobs in Canada have predominantly gone to just five cities — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa.
As manufacturing continues to decline, the tech sector — and the high wages that come with it — will be increasingly important for cities looking to become less reliant on traditional wealth generators.
Windsor has already seen its fair share of manufacturing loss in recent months; CS Wind has closed, Nemak is set to close next year and the long-running third shift at FCA Windsor Assembly is being phased out in October.
WETech Alliance CEO, Yvonne Pilon, says there are a number of initiatives being carried out by local organizations to attract new tech entrepreneurs and encourage innovation in Windsor-Essex.
“Economic development is a long-term play and we are working on building Windsor-Essex County up,” said Pilon.
Those initiatives include an “upscaling program” that Pilon says has seen nine companies create 57 net new jobs and expand into 23 countries in the last two years.
“As we’re seeing, there are jobs being lost; but, how can we take those individuals and upscale them into more tech related opportunities.”
According to Workforce Windsor-Essex, there were 129 job postings for tech-related positions in July 2019 alone while nearly 4,000 people were employed in tech-related fields like information systems analysts and electronics engineers in 2018.
The labour statistics agency has also collaborated with WETech Alliance to launch the ‘TechConnect’ initiative in July meant to better connect those in the tech sector.
“Connecting people to tech news, tech events, tech organization and tech education,” said Pilon.
MacKenzie stresses Windsor doesn’t have to be a “superstar city” as the report describes, but should focus on its strengths including autonomous vehicle technology and border tracking systems.
MacKenzie also points to the newly arrived U.S. online mortgage company Quicken Loans, and the projected new 150 jobs, as a sign of things to come for the region.
“You can’t get a Quicken Loan mortgage in Canada. They’re not here to sell their product. They’re here to access the talent pool that’s needed to drive innovation to keep that company successful,” said MacKenzie.
Economic diversification has been a key strategy for Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, as he addressed the need to shift the city’s economy in the wake of General Motor’s decision to end its operations in Oshawa.
“We need to start planning as if we’ve just been given notice that 2025 is the year [Windsor Assembly] will close,” said Dilkens at his swearing in ceremony on December 4, 2018. “We need to triple our efforts on the economic development front to fast track the diversification of our economy.”
General Motors has since announced a $170 million investment to transition its former assembly plant in Oshawa into a part-stamping and autonomous vehicle testing facility.
The move is expected to save 300 of 2,600 union jobs at the plant.
Vehicle production is still slated to end in late 2019.