Friday, December 21, 2012

Ontario Jobs & Prosperity Council emphasizes exports, productivity, innovation

Advantage Ontario, the full report of the Ontario Jobs & Prosperity Council—chaired by Royal Bank CEO Gord Nixon—was released on Wednesday. It focuses on five areas: exports, productivity, innovation/entrepreneurship, skills/training, and regulation.

The report mostly repeats a lot of familiar observations at a very high level, so we get the usual (which isn't to say incorrect) plaints about how Ontario businesses underinvest in R&D, how the regulatory burden is an impediment to growth, that our companies need to focus more on exports to emerging markets, that government business support programs are too fragmented, immigration is vital, manufacturing is critical to the economy, not enough parents and students appreciate careers in the skilled trades, and so on. All things we've heard many times before.

Which would be fine, if the report facilitated action on fixing these issues, but in most cases the recommendations are only a notch or two above "something should be done about it" (or, in many cases, "something has been done, but we think there's need for more"). The report is heavy on obvious exhortations and light on anything that will change what anyone does tomorrow morning, and there are rarely specifics that would make their implementation any easier today than the last dozen times the same ideas have been suggested.

On innovation and entrepreneurship, the council suggests the creation of a "business-led commercialization voucher" to encourage collaboration between businesses and public research institutions. (How this would be different from the many existing subsidies for industry-academic partnerships isn't specified.) It says that funding in the Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE) program should be "better aligned" with the needs of "regional clusters with the greatest potential for growth"—which is one way to allocate increasingly scarce resources, although now that I've expanded my horizons from two of the biggest "have" clusters in the province (Toronto and Waterloo) to some of the "need-to-have" regions, I'd be worried about taking this approach too far. There's a lot of potential for strengthening the economy through innovation improvements in areas outside of the leading clusters.

The report also encourages the elimination of barriers to crowdfunding, and supports the exploration of other measures such as an angel investment tax credit.

The council wants the province to replace its current "too fragmented and too complex" business support programs with a "one-window" model that focuses on exports, productivity and innovation. The programs would be delivered through a Jobs and Prosperity Fund, which the report suggests should start at $150 million a year and expand as existing programs come to an end with those expenditures (minus spending cuts) then allocated to the fund. Incentives for foreign direct investment would be funded separately from the Jobs and Prosperity Fund.

Initiatives to help university and college students start their own businesses (Ryerson's Digital Media Zone and U of T's DesignWorks are specifically mentioned) are lauded by the council, which also recommends the creation of "entrepreneurship high schools" and more entrepreneurship education in secondary schools.

From a council with heavy representation from business (RIM's Mike Lazaridis and Linamar's Linda Hasenfratz were among the members), the section on productivity is disappointingly short on discussion that would be of value to business managers and is mostly written at the usual "sitting in my office crunching StatsCan data in a spreadsheet" level that has repeatedly been shown to be every bit as ineffective in shaping management decisions as you should expect.

The council was not enthusiastic about a proposed tax credit that would reimburse employers 10% of salaries of new hires in their first year of employment. And the report floats the idea that expanded user fees may be necessary to pay for all the infrastructure improvements the province will need to remain globally competitive.

Pages 29-35 summarize the report and its recommendations. The focus on productivity, innovation and exports captures much of the current "state of the province" thinking, and if the report doesn't exactly clear many new paths, it's useful in pointing the direction we're heading.

Friday, November 30, 2012

FedDev Q2 fundings include Maluuba, Avenir, Dejero, Axonify, GTAN and Cyborg Trading

Kudos to the staff at FedDev for announcing most of the contributions for the July to September period before the quarterly disclosures were posted. The most significant not-yet-announced funding from the list is $925,000 for Dejero, made through FedDev's Investing in Business Innovation program (which means there was additional angel funding for the company as well).

Angel groups across Southern Ontario are getting $100,000 this year from FedDev and GTAN received its funding in the quarter.

Funding to businesses is repayble.

Disclosed FedDev fundings in (or related to) Southwestern Ontario:

Maluuba Waterloo$980,000
Avenir Medical Waterloo$950,000
Dejero Waterloo$925,000
Axonify Waterloo$750,000
Sweet Tooth Waterloo$750,000
Cyborg Trading SystemsLondon$381,500
Ontario Association Of CFDCsSt. Thomas  $170,000
AURP Canada  Waterloo$129,500
Golden Triangle Angel NetworkCambridge$100,000
Western Ontario CFDC Association  Thorold$45,000

AURP Canada is a national organization, headed by Carol Stewart at the David Johnston Research and Technology Park at UW. The Ontario Association of CFDCs is based in St. Thomas and serves all of Ontario. The Western Ontario CFDC Association covers an area that includes all of Southwestern Ontario.

Also see the latest IRAP contributions.

A&L Labs (London) and Communitech top SWO IRAP contributions, July-September

IRAP has disclosed its Q2 contributions—the period covering July, August, and September. Topping the list among recipients in Southwestern Ontario is A&L Labs in London and Communitech in Waterloo Region, with London's Quantum5X also in the six-figure range.

Other recipients include Big Blue Bubble, TechAlliance, Avvasi, CrossChasm, Aeryon, IMAP, Akira, Powernoodle, Renix, Neoventures, and LifeLike Biotissue.

Disclosed IRAP contributions for Southwestern Ontario:

A&L Laboratories Canada London $436,839
Quantum5x SystemsLondon$126,623
Delhi SolacDelhi$80,095
Big Blue BubbleLondon$60,000
Clearwater ClinicalLondon$50,000
Ontario Drive And GearNew Hamburg  $50,000
Crosschasm TechnologiesWaterloo$50,000
Huron Technologies InternationalWaterloo$50,000
Aeryon LabsWaterloo$50,000
CS Automotive TubingLondon$49,988
Bluewater Wood AllianceWalkerton$49,960
Coorstek Advanced MaterialsParis$49,958
Bluewater Wood AllianceWalkerton$49,890
IMAP AuditsSarnia$49,848
Akira SystemsLondon$49,741
Picard FoodsWaterford$49,680
Coorstek Advanced MaterialsParis$49,500
Red PistonWindsor$49,120
Windsor MoldWindsor$49,000
Orion Foundry CanadaWaterloo$47,760
Pakfab Engineered SolutionsAyr$45,768
Molesworth Farm SupplyListowel$45,648
Conceptual PathwaysStratford$45,200
Great Lakes GreenhousesLeamington$45,012
Bogdon & Gross Furniture Co.Walkerton$44,266
Parallax InnovationIlderton$44,160
Sylvan Point TechnologiesWiarton$44,032
Rescraft Plastic ProductsParis$44,000
Neoventures BiotechnologyLondon$42,000
Kilbank Metal Forming & Turning  St. Thomas$41,002
Gorge CinemaElora$39,936
Rol-Land Farms BlenheimBlenheim$37,928
RemontechSt. Thomas$35,133
Change Air Products & ServicesAylmer$30,000
Dynajoin CorporationCambridge$30,000
LifeLike BiotissueLondon$30,000
Ramsden IndustriesLondon$30,000
2092912 OntarioSt. Williams$28,968

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Middlesex County tops SWO for residential assessment increases ... farmland values jump

The 2012 MPAC property assessment results are all in, and all regions of Southwestern Ontario fell below the provincial average of an 18.0% increase in residential property value between 2008 and 2012.

Across the region, the highest average increase was in Middlesex County—my new(ish) home—at 17.0%, followed by Grey (16.3%) and Bruce (15.8%) Counties and Guelph (15.5%), with Waterloo Region (15.3%) and Huron County (14.8%) close behind.

(In the MPAC announcement, Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk were lumped together with a range of 8.3% to 10.3% for the three. I used the mid-point for the graph.)

Windsor was at the other end of the scale with a 0.3% increase, followed by Sarnia at 1.8%.

In Ontario, the highest reported increase was in Timiskaming, where assessments were up an average 36.8%. But that doesn't come close to the increases for farmland:

The value of farmland has skyrocketed in Southwestern Ontario over the last four years, with the biggest increases coming in Chatham-Kent (65.6%) and Huron County (65.3%). The Brantford area (64.0%) and Lambton County (62.2%) were also right up there.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cyborg Trading Systems shows that exciting tech startups can come out of London

So far, most of the FedDev funding for businesses in the London area—other than the huge $10 million contribution to help Mississauga-based Dr. Oetker Canada build a London facility—has come indirectly, though programs such as the Graduate Enterprise Internship ($1.8 million provided to the Research Park/Stiller Centre, most of which gets passed through to companies to help them hire STEM graduates) and the Applied Research and Commercialization initiative ($1.25 million to Western to enable the university to work on projects on behalf of companies).

So the announcement that will be made later today by MP Susan Truppe of FedDev funding for London-based Cyborg Trading Systems is something different and exciting for the city—and FedDev couldn't have selected a better company.

When I started working in London in the fall of 2010, Cyborg had just become a client of the Waterloo Accelerator Centre's Accelerator Program and had opened an office at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener. By then, they had already been working with the London IRAP office for some time and had recently received a $300,000 contribution from them. That's not a level of support that IRAP hands out easily and that told me the company was on to something interesting. They were even on the cover of Business London magazine that month.

I was eager to meet them and, even though they weren't involved with TechAlliance, invited them to the Founders and Funders Dinner where I got to sit with the three founders (CEO James McInnes, CFO Ben Bittrolff and CTO Peter Metford). They had a strong mix of industry expertise and technical skills and were as impressive a company as I had met in London. They were also very encouraging about the quality of tech graduates in London, speaking highly of Western and Fanshawe and the people they had hired from each. The conversation would have made a great recuitment video for either school.

As someone who had been immersed in the Waterloo tech scene for nearly 15 years, my assumption was that Cyborg opened an office in Kitchener for software development while keeping business operations in London, so it was a surprise—a pleasant one—to hear that it was really just the opposite. Among the founders, it was the CFO who was in Kitchener.

The company has been working with FedDev for some time now and it's good to see that work pay off. In a letter of support I wrote to FedDev last year, I said Cyborg had "quickly become one of the most promising innovation-based companies in the city" and I know the entrepreneurs-in-residence at Communitech and the in-house mentors at the Accelerator Centre have been very impressed as well.

So, congratulations to Cyborg Trading Systems. The FedDev funding is only the tip of the iceberg of the great things that have been happening with the company. Its success shows that strong tech companies can start in London and underscores what I've said before about the value of the work that IRAP has done in London in finding and supporting early-stage companies (I believe IRAP has been working with Cyborg for nearly four years now). London may not yet have anything comparable to the Accelerator Centre or the Communitech Hub, but those resources aren't far away and Cyborg has shown the value those organizations can add to a high-potential company—even one based in London.

AFTERNOON UPDATE: The announcement has now been made—FedDev will provide Cyborg Trading Systems with up to $381,500 under its Prosperity Initiative (which is different from the Investing in Business Innovation program I discussed in an earlier post). According to the news release, the money will be used "to help it expand its operations, take advantage of existing market gaps, and further establish its global market presence. This is expected to create 16 new, high-tech jobs at its London and Kitchener offices."

Monday, September 24, 2012

The real gap between London and Waterloo in FedDev fundings

Getting back to FedDev and the differences in funding between Waterloo and London (see "Gap between FedDev spending in Waterloo and London not as large as it looks," September 10)—a discussion initiated by a couple of stories in the London Free Press.

The Free Press tried to aggregate all FedDev money going to Waterloo and London over the last three years—and didn't do it well. But even if you could do it well, it's an approach that's going to hide more than it reveals.

FedDev's focus has changed significantly over that period. Early on, funds went to municipalities to help them upgrade their recreation infrastructure—arenas, swimming pools, sports fields, and so on. Just in Southwestern Ontario alone that amounted to more than $40 million.

More recently, there's been an emphasis on providing (repayable) funds to businesses to help them attract investment and improve competitiveness. So if you're looking to draw conclusions about support for business—as the Free Press was—it's more relevant to look at program-by-program comparisons instead of lumping together money for business and infrastructure and everything else FedDev has supported.

We'll skip to the one that reveals the most significant difference in funding between Waterloo and London. For early stage technology companies, one of FedDev's most useful programs has been its Investing in Business Innovation (IBI) initiative. Along with providing money to companies, the program also funds angel investor groups:

Golden Triangle Angel Network     Cambridge     2011-02-24     $ 50,000.00
Southwestern Ontario Angel Group     London     2011-11-29     $ 50,000.00

No difference there: the angel groups serving Waterloo Region (GTAN) and London (SWOAG) received the exact same $50,000 ... as did most angel groups in Southern Ontario.

Many companies in the Waterloo area have received significant funding through the IBI program:

P+P Optica  $985,000
I Think Security  $75,000
Aeryon Labs$985,000

Every one of these companies is from the tech sector and there are lots of old friends represented on the list—people I worked with through Communitech and WatStart and some Accelerator Centre clients as well.

If we subtract the numbers for (it has a Kitchener office and the founder became a director of Communitech in 2009, but it's based in Guelph), that's 12 companies in Waterloo Region receiving $9.1 million

Now let's look at the list of London companies that have benefitted from this funding, according to FedDev's disclosures:

Want to see it again?

Yes, that would be zero companies receiving $0.

So here's where there's a huge difference in FedDev fundings between Waterloo and London. How you interpret it will be a bit of a Rorschach test.

For those of us coming from Waterloo, it sets off alarms. I have difficulty seeing it as anything other than more evidence of the weakness of the London tech support ecosystem over the last several years (with IRAP as a significant exception).

But Londoners who haven't been immersed in the Waterloo environment are more likely to take it in stride. They get sick of hearing about Waterloo and I doubt they'd even be motivated to look into it. Even if they did, they'd likely point out that Hamilton hasn't had any either (true), and Ottawa's only had a couple (true again), and decide it's really not so bad.

That's one way of looking at it, but it's hard for me to see the inkblots that way when I can remember when the gap between the Waterloo and London tech communities wasn't all that wide. Now they're in two different leagues and the distance between them is growing.

The success of BizInc has been a hopeful sign for London. It's done a great job since launching two years ago. It was through BizInc that I met eProf ... which went to Toronto to become one of the first cohort of startups in MaRS' Jolt program. And it was through BizInc that I met Coachd ... which went to Kitchener to become one of the first cohort of startups in Communitech's Hyperdrive program. Jolt and Hyperdrive had highly competitive selection processes, and made-in-London startups made the cut in each. That's very promising. Unfortunately, they both had to leave the area to get the support they needed.

The gap between Waterloo and London in IBI funding is certainly not FedDev's fault. In fact, fundings made by the provincially-funded Investment Accelerator Fund (managed by MaRS) in Waterloo Region and London would show an almost identical gap—and with several different companies in Waterloo getting funded.

And don't point fingers at LEDC—which received the most votes in the Free Press online poll of who was to blame for the (largely imaginary, in my analysis) gap in total FedDev funds provided to London and Waterloo. The FedDev success that London has had—particularly the Dr. Oetker facility and the funding for the cargo centre at the airport—have been initiatives where LEDC was heavily engaged and which fall within its mandate. If the numbers were reversed, I can guarantee you that few people in Waterloo would be blaming CTT, the Waterloo Region counterpart to LEDC.

But there would be people driven to action, and that's probably the biggest difference between Waterloo and London. In London, it'll almost certainly be another round of the same, from the same people who sat watching as Waterloo Region pulled away and vanished over the horizon.

And now that Hamilton seems to have its act together, London may get to go through it all over again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Highlights of Ontario commercialization/innovation spending, FY2012

The Public Accounts of Ontario for fiscal year 2012 (ended March 31) have been released, showing—among other things—the transfer payments made by the Ontario government to various organizations though the year.

Some highlights from the commercialization/innovation sector:

Some of these dollars are passed through to other organizations, but that level of detail isn't provided. Many of these organizations receive other Ontario government funds, but these are the direct transfer payments recorded in the public accounts. Several of these fundings were through the Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE) program, which has about another 10 months to go under existing contracts.

Overall, the top recipients as shown in the public accounts for the research and commercialization sector were the Ontario Institute For Cancer Research ($82.1 million), Hospital For Sick Children ($49.6 million) and the University Of Toronto ($42.6 million). OCE was fourth.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gap between FedDev spending in Waterloo and London not as large as it looks

I've used government disclosure statements as the basis of reports for years, but I still get a little uneasy when I do. They're almost never as clear or detailed as you'd wish, and can be a minefield for the unsuspecting.

A story last week in the London Free Press (a follow up on an earlier story I hadn't seen) compares contributions made by FedDev in the Waterloo and London areas—a story based on FedDev disclosure statements over the years.

On the one hand, it concludes that Waterloo Region is more aggressive about pursuing government funding than the London area, and that's been my experience as well—specifically, in the tech sector.

But the story manages to fall into some of the traps that await readers of disclosure statements. And in so doing, I think it misses the interesting story that the FedDev numbers point to—one that's a bit concerning from a London perspective (which I'll save for another time, since my blog posts are usually way too long).

The Free Press reported that Waterloo has received $87.4 million from FedDev compared to $37 million for London. Looking through the numbers, though, I'd say both of those figures are misleading. The actual gap seems closer to $5 million than $50 million.

FedDev disclosures look like this:
Western Ontario CFDC Association Inc.     Brantford, ON, CAN     2012-03-15     $12,000,000.00

Using that line as an example, you'd probably conclude that Brantford got $12 million and no other area received anything. In fact, very little of that $12 million will end up in Brantford. It's for a fund, now called SOFII, to help companies across Western Ontario—including all of Southwestern Ontario from Windsor to Guelph and beyond. But FedDev disclosures are listed with just a single municipality or community, and, in this case, since Enterprise Brant was the administrative lead on the WOCFDCA proposal, Brantford is that city. You can't always go by the municipality that's listed—sometimes you have to dig deeper, and that's usually not easy.

When you look for contributions for London, and don't know what to look for, you're going to skip right by this one:
Dr. Oetker Canada Ltd.     Mississauga, ON, CAN     2012-02-27     $10,000,000.00

It says Mississauga—and the Free Press didn't include it in the local numbers. But it's actually the largest contribution that FedDev has made to London—funding for the new Dr. Oetker facility in the city. (LEDC's Peter White is quoted talking about it, but it still wasn't included in the London tally.) Dr. Oetker Canada has its HQ in Mississauga, so that's what's in the disclosure, even though the money is being used for London's benefit.

The largest FedDev contribution assigned to Waterloo Region—by far—was this one from just over a year ago. It's nearly four times the size of the next largest contribution in the area:
University of Waterloo     Waterloo, ON, CAN     2011-08-23     $19,580,000.00

Again, if you don't know what you're looking at and don't have time to look into it, you'd think the City of Waterloo got $19.6 million from FedDev. But it really didn't. That's actually FedDev's contribution to the Southern Ontario Water Consortium, announced at last year's AMO conference. London is also a node in that network, as are Toronto and Guelph. The money is actually going to all those areas, but only Waterloo is shown in the disclosure.

There are other tricks and traps in analyzing the disclosure statements (projects get cancelled, dollar amounts get changed and the revisions can look like new fundings), but the one likely to create the biggest errors is allocating all the dollars to the municipality in the disclosure. It would make analysis much simpler if you could do it that way—a quick copy, paste, and sort—but accurate results require more work than that.

The Free Press also used a questionably broad definition of the Waterloo area. They didn't say what they were using, so I'm not sure, but it looks like they included Guelph on top of Waterloo Region—which takes us far beyond reach of anything apples-to-apples. Waterloo Region is already slightly larger by population than the London CMA, but they're close and make the fairest comparison. Adding Guelph on top of Waterloo Region is just stacking the deck.

So, if we call the Water Consortium funding a push and take it out of the calculations (how much is going to each node has never been disclosed, so we don't know how to divide the pot), I'm left with $54.5 million in disclosed FedDev contributions to organizations in Waterloo Region. Add the Dr. Oetker $10 million to the totals for the London area and I get $50.3 million ... and then you'd need to add millions more to each for the Water Consortium and funding for SOFII and anything else allocated to other areas in the disclosure statements but actually used for the benefit of London and Waterloo Region, minus amounts shown for those two regions that are actually being used elsewhere.

We don't know what those are, so we can't do the calculations. I'm not sold on the value of comparisons of the aggregates in this way—and I never feel very confident drawing conclusions from disclosure statements—but the difference in FedDev funding between Waterloo Region and London doesn't look to be anything close to $50 million.

In fact, the real gap looks narrow enough that you might not think there's any message to take away from the difference. But I think that would be a mistake too ...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

IRAP Q1 contributions in Southwestern Ontario include RDM, ExactEarth, Systems Logic, Compudata

Waterloo Region's RDM and ExactEarth were among the companies in Southwestern Ontario that received IRAP contributions in the first quarter of FY2013. The largest project was from Essex County's Concours Mold.

Disclosed Q1 contributions:

Concours Mold Inc.Lakeshore (Essex)  $200,000
MDL Doors Inc.Brussels (Huron)$85,246
Apogee Engineered Ceramics Inc.  Brantford$50,000
Blue North Strategies Inc.Guelph$50,000
ExactEarth Ltd.Cambridge$50,000
RDM CorporationWaterloo$50,000
Systems LogicBrantford$50,000
Pavaco Plastics Inc.Guelph$45,751
Ramstar Carbide Tool Inc.Windsor$40,000
Bluestreak Equipment Inc.Delhi (Norfolk)$39,528
Ball Media Corp.Brantford$30,000
Compudata Systems London Inc.London$30,000

There was also an expansion of a project with Guelph's Biorem that began last year. Contributions below $25,000 are not disclosed.

Friday, August 31, 2012, Fongo top FedDev's Q1 fundings in Southwestern Ontario

Fed Dev has disclosed its contributions for the first quarter of fiscal year 2013, covering the April-May-June period. Three companies from Southwestern Ontario are on the list: Guelph's, Cambridge's Fongo and Brantford's Systems Logic. FedDev contributions to businesses are repayable.

Q1 fundings in Southwestern Ontario:

Companies:, Inc.Guelph$975,000
Fongo Inc.Cambridge  $850,000
Systems LogicBrantford$366,667
Conestoga CollegeKitchener$750,000
University of WaterlooWaterloo$750,000
University of WindsorWindsor$750,000
University of GuelphGuelph$650,000
University of Western OntarioLondon$500,000
Lambton CollegeSarnia$285,000
Essex CFDCEssex$610,000
Elgin CFDCSt Thomas$570,000
CFDC of Wellington-Waterloo  Elora$570,000
Brant CFDCBrantford$570,000

All Community Futures Development Corporations in Southern Ontario receive their funding through FedDev. The funding for universities and colleges is under the applied research program and will be spent on projects that assist individual businesses.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Panel says horse racing industry needs public funds to survive

A few years ago, a couple of my hobbies led me to read over hundreds of sports sections from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Although I was scanning for particular information, a couple of general trends jumped out.

First, that day-to-day coverage of local women's sports was much stronger in the 1930s than it is today, and second, the huge role of horse racing in mainstream Toronto sporting life. It was everywhere. I wasn't researching horse racing, but it was impossible to avoid reading about it, and it was impressive.

I'd never been to the races, but after immersing myself in these old sports sections and the Toronto sports world of that era, it felt like something I should do. I got as far as taking a look at the website for Mohawk Racetrack—not very far from Waterloo—but I never did go. Nostalgia only goes so far, and whatever horse racing once was as a cultural force, it sure wasn't any more and hadn't been for decades. In recent years, if Ontarians were at a race track, they were probably there for the slot machines and not for anything related to horses.

Horse racing was already in decline when government-run lotteries began appearing in the mid 1970s. Lotteries greatly expanded in the 1980s and the introduction of casinos in the 1990s looked like it might be the end of the line for racing ... except that the provincial government agreed in 1998 to place slot machines at racetracks and give the horse racing industry 20% of the revenue.

Last week, the three-person Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel put together by the Ontario government in June—and comprised of former cabinet ministers from NDP, PC and Liberal governments—delivered its interim report. It paints a picture of an industry that not only managed to stay alive off its cut of slot machine revenue—hundreds of millions of dollars a year—but got fat off it, with more tracks, more races and higher purses than almost anywhere else in North America.

But it also describes an industry lacking in vision and leadership, ready to coast complacently in the slot machine slipstream with no urgency around finding a sustainable business model. And now the gravy train is coming to an end, as the government has decided it has better uses for those hundreds of millions of dollars than to put them into an otherwise unsustainable industry with a dying market.

It's a huge blow to the tens of thousands of people who work in the horse racing industry. The panel puts the number at up to 30,000 FTEs, but with many of the jobs part-time or seasonal, the number of people who earn a significant part of their income in the industry would be much higher.

And the government isn't wasting any time. It only gave one year's notice that it was taking slot machines away from the racetracks, and then took machines out of some tracks almost immediately (while continuing funding for another year).

In its findings, the panel supports the decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP), calling its continuation "poor public policy" that would "not be a wise use of public funds" and would allow the industry to "keep evading the competitive challenges of today’s entertainment marketplace."

But while that may sound like the panel is championing a market-driven, sink-or-swim-on-your-own approach, that's not the case, as it encourages "reducing but not terminating public support" as "no Ontario racetrack has a viable business plan to continue racing operations after March 31, 2013" (the end of SARP) and "a viable, vibrant horse racing industry is simply not feasible today without public investment."

It wants the government to continue to keep horse racing alive, but with less funding and more strings attached to the dollars—with objectives, benchmarks, and regular reporting required from the industry. And it says the government will have to oversee reform in the horse racing business as "the industry currently lacks the cohesion to save itself."

Between this inability to save itself, the absence of viable business plans, and the panel's claim that the industry "has done little to modernize or repackage its product or even, until recently, think very hard about its future," you have to wonder why this is an industry worth saving.

From a business perspective, it isn't. Instead, the panel points to horse racing as "a cultural asset" and discusses the dire consequences for the people who work in the industry, many of whom  do not have transferrable skills and would have a hard time replacing the lost income (the report also discusses the impact on the horses—thousands of which would be euthanized, which in turn would also be devastating to many in the industry).

Consistency is not a strength of the report, which says that SARP is bad policy and then suggests that maybe the government could consider paying "enhanced rent to tracks for their slots facilities"—just a different way to spin what SARP does. But it's clear that there are no simple answers (at least none that wouldn't have sombre consequences), and some inconsistency may be the least of the challenges ahead.

Even if all the necessary reforms are made, the panel isn't under any illusions that the horse racing industry as we know it can survive. "Without a doubt, the horse racing industry of tomorrow will have a smaller footprint than it does today."

You have to sympathize with the trainers, grooms, walkers, jockeys and others who weren't in a position to lead the industry out of its complacency and whose lives will be turned upside down by the end of SARP. A year's notice that $350 million in annual funding is being pulled is never going to go painlessly, and the panel reports that the (up to) $50 million in transition funding that the government has pledged isn't going to be enough to keep the industry alive in any significant form.

But there really is no horse racing industry, if we define "industry" as a business sector. There's no sustainable business here—no market that can support the industry as it currently exists—and according to the panel, that's not going to change.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Canadian tech sector isn't vanishing, but its mainstream halo is fading

A story in the Globe a week-and-a-half ago headlined "Canada's vanishing tech sector" generated strong responses from two sources:
  1. People who work in the tech sector, especially those in the startup community who could name a hundred companies off the top of their heads and know they could easily find hundreds more from a growing list.
  2. Folks in the finance/venture capital sector, since the blame for this "vanishing" was laid at their feet.
But while you could quibble with—and sometimes flatly refute—some of the claims in the story, it does point to a key issue that shouldn't be quickly dismissed. The essence of that point was captured in this line: "for the first time in at least a generation, Canada lacks a single, healthy large-capitalization tech champion."

Vanishing to the mainstream
The Canadian tech sector hasn't vanished, but it is fading from mainstream radar screens. And that could be a problem for the sector, especially when it comes to government policies and programs that have assisted so many startups over the last few years.

Those of us who work in and around the tech sector can be oblivious to the bubble we float in. If you want to come back down to Earth, just ask the average person who works outside of tech to name five Canadian tech companies. They'll (nearly) all know RIM and may know some local firms, but if they can come up with a few from outside of their own area they're doing very well.

That was true five years ago and 10 years ago as well. Not only have Nortel and RIM been the exceptions, they've also been, for a generation of Canadians, the company everyone knows in a category where they're aware that there are several other companies but don't really know much about them. The entire Canadian tech sector was immersed in the halo effect they generated.

The value of an icon
In Waterloo, we quickly learned the value of having the industry icon in our own backyard. Thanks to RIM, people were ready to believe that a lot more was going on in Waterloo than was really the case for many years. We put that belief to good use, attracting the resources needed to help the reality catch up to the belief. RIM actually contributed very little—directly—to the creation of Waterloo's startup community, but its indirect contributions were significant. Few startups in the Waterloo area haven't taken advantage of resources that came to the community partly as a result of the halo effect that RIM engendered.

But it's not just Waterloo. The near-simultaneous collapse of Nortel and rise of RIM couldn't have been timed better for psychological impact. We had the threat and the hope—the dire things that could happen and the proof that we could still create great, world-class tech companies. You couldn't ask for a more motivational combination.

Governments were particularly motivated. Over the last few years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the tech sector, through new programs and agencies like ONE, CECR, and FedDev and through additional funding for longstanding programs such as IRAP. Here in Ontario, we've also seen the federal and provincial governments kick in money to stimulate venture capital investment.

We've seen greatly expanded services from organizations like MaRS and Communitech, the creation of new innovation centres providing services to startups and early-stage tech companies in Hamilton, Guelph, Windsor and many other places, and funding for new commercialization centres in Waterloo, London, Hamilton, and elsewhere. It would be hard to find many tech startups in Ontario that haven't received some benefit from these programs—in many cases, the benefits have been substantial.

Did government really care about supporting a five-person startup? I think the bigger motivation was "finding the next RIM." Not that these startups were realistically ever going to be RIM-sized, but RIM was the mental model of what a Canadian tech startup could become and that legitimized the entire sector and the level of support it received.

There may be no "next RIM" for some time
When people ask who the next Canadian tech darling is going to be (and RIM has no plans to let go of that spot, although I think it's fair to say its grip has loosened), I'm not sure they realize what an exception RIM is.

Of the companies with Canadian headquarters listed on the TSX—most of which have reached a size that few of our tech startups will ever match—nearly 95% are from outside the technology sector (although the TSX also has separate categories for cleantech and life sciences firms which would lower that percentage if you use a broader definition of technology).

By market capitalization, the largest Canadian-based company in the category is IT services firm CGI, followed by RIM and OpenText. The next four—CAE, Constellation Software, MDA and Celestica—are all billion-dollar-plus companies ... and have a combined 54 followers on Twitter (30 for Celestica and 24 for CAE; couldn't find Twitter accounts for the other two).

As a business owner, I'd take market cap over Twitter followers too, but none of these huge companies will ever be the flagbearers that RIM has been. If they were going to be, they would have been by now.

At the other end of the scale, we have companies like Hootsuite with over three million Twitter followers and a top-200 Alexa ranking—outstanding numbers that have helped make the company a success story that Canada's startup tech community points to and is inspired by. But it has fewer than 250 employees—which is still bigger than FreshBooks and Shopify and other startup community favourites, but to a mainstream audience, that's not much at all. And for every company of that size, there are hundreds that will never grow to be the size FreshBooks is today.

Startup ecosystem fuelled by RIM halo needs to stand on its own
I don't look down my nose at 200-employee companies and neither does the startup community. In fact, we can get excited by companies with teams smaller than 30. But not everyone feels that way. There is increasingly a mood in Canada that we've been wasting too many resources on small startups that will never become large firms when what we should be focused on is supporting companies on a path to become billion-dollar businesses.

Some would say good riddance to government programs and handouts, but there's no denying that much of the startup ecosystem that has been developed over the last few years in Ontario has been driven by government policy and support. Those policy choices have also shaped private sector investment in the sector.

If the motivation to find the next RIM has started to fade, the task ahead is to explain to policymakers and Canadians in general why having a thousand microbusinesses that few people outside of our little enclave have ever heard of is a sign of a healthy industry that is worthy of support and investment.

I don't have stats to point to, but there seems to be more Canadian tech companies today than at any time in the 15 years I've been following the sector. The sector isn't vanishing—I know that, and you likely know that. But our neighbours probably don't, and the Globe story was a good reminder that mainstream perceptions in Canada may be very different from our experiences ... and that those perceptions could have significant consequences.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Norfolk County economic strategy on hold: ideas and execution

In the startup world, you hear every day that ideas are typically a dime-a-dozen and the real challenge is execution.

It's not just true for startups.

Over the last year, I've seen over and over again with economic development in small urban and rural areas that there's no shortage of good ideas (or of mediocre and poor ones, for that matter), but there are formidable barriers to execution. Sometimes it's having the experience and expertise to filter out those good ideas or in overcoming inertia and complacency, but often it's the challenge of putting together the necessary resources—money and people, in particular—to implement them.

I was reminded of that again last week when Norfolk County Council voted to postpone its decision on funding much of its economic development strategy ("Norfolk told to move on economic development," Simcoe Reformer, July 3). The strategy was developed last year and further refined earlier this year in a process that involved hundreds of people in the area, along with an Ottawa-based consulting firm and Norfolk County staff.

The vision of the strategy was for Norfolk County to be a "community where innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and collaboration drive the local economy." The initial draft from last October was a bit of a grab-bag with dozens of ideas. No one was under any illusions that they could all be implemented, especially when some of the ideas were ways to generate even more suggestions (a business symposium, an entrepreneurship forum and an "agriculture summit" were all suggested in a single two-page section ... a small-business forum was suggested a few pages later), but the ideas covered some vital areas, such as entrepreneurship, youth entrepreneurship, and innovation.

But, as with startups, ideas are the easy part.

Someone has to execute these ideas and there's only so much you can add to the workload of a small team. In Norfolk County's case. there were a few ideas that were relatively straightforward, but the heart of the strategy was going to require people and dollars to implement. Not huge amounts, but some. And that's where much of the economic development strategy has fallen into limbo. The resources to execute the plan aren't in place and council isn't ready to provide funding for them.

Norfolk County certainly isn't unique in that regard. Budgets are tight and aren't likely to get looser any time soon. Coming from the innovation/commercialization side, it's been an eye-opener. "Innovation" has been the colour that provincial and federal governments have been buying for the last six years or so. If you needed $100,000 to fund an initiative, you could probably find the money somewhere. It would take some work, and you wouldn't always succeed, but there's plenty of money in the system.

It's a very different story with small urban and rural economic development. There's not a lot of money in that stream and it's much harder to raise funds to implement even the best ideas. Small urban and rural economic development may not have the cachet of  innovation/ commercialization, but our future prosperity depends on it. Having gone across most of Southwestern Ontario, I've seen the potential in places like Norfolk County ... and Sarnia and Chatham-Kent, and others. We can come up with all kinds of strategies and plans, but it won't get you very far if you can't execute.

Friday, July 06, 2012

London and the 20-44-year-old workforce

Emerging Leaders recently published the results of a survey suggesesting that a lot of Londoners in the 20-44 age range think they may choose to leave the city over the next 10 years.

Of the 280 respondents—most of whom were in the 20-44 age group—21% said they were not likely to remain in London for the next 10 years and only 43% said they were very likely to stay put (the rest said they were "somewhat likely" to remain).

That's not a comforting number—and Emerging Leaders will be spending the summer developing some options for retaining the 20-44 year old workforce.

London actually starts from a great advantage when it comes to youth—most communities would love to have the same concentration of well-educated people in their 20s that London has.

Among the communities I've been looking at in Southwestern/Southern Ontario, only the City of Waterloo had a higher percentage of people in their 20s (see "Education and age differences across Southwestern Ontario and implications for "innovation" support," May 22), and the 2011 census shows London running neck-and-neck with Kitchener behind only Waterloo in its concentration of 20-somethings (see "Waterloo—not as young as it used to be (unlike the rest of us)," July 5).

And, while Waterloo's population of people in their 20s shrank by 2% between 2006 and 2011, London's grew by 5%.

The challenge seems to be what happens after that. One of the themes of the Emerging Leaders survey was "the difficulty of moving beyond entry level and mid level management positions into more senior roles" and the census numbers are consistent with that.

While London scores highly in its concentration of 20-somethings, it falls slightly below the provincial average in people in their 30s and well below average in the 40-44 age range.

Compared to the provincial average, you can see that London scores very well with people in their 20s, but then starts to drop off once you get to 30-somethings. In contrast, Toronto shows an above average concentration well into the 40s (Kitchener is surprisingly similar to Toronto in its distribution).

As difficult as keeping younger talent may be for London, there are many other places facing even bigger challenges. Lambton College helps Sarnia keep a slightly above average concentration in the 20-24 year range, but it drops quickly after that (the good news for Sarnia from the 2011 census it the high population growth rates it showed in the 20-34 range). Chatham-Kent's age concentration line is similar to that for other less urban areas with no main campus university or college.

So London does have challenges that need to be addressed, but many places would love to have the problem of having to figure out how to keep an overabundance of 20-somethings in their communities.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Waterloo—not as young as it used to be (unlike the rest of us)

Over the years I lived in the City of Waterloo, it always had a much younger population than the national or provincial average—something you'd expect in a city with two universities and a population of just 100,000 (even though students are counted in their "home" regions by the census).

That remained the case with the 2011 census, where Waterloo's median age was 37.6 compared to the Ontario median of 40.4—and where Waterloo had 16.4% of its population in their 20s, the largest number among the 11 communities I looked at and well above the provincial average of 13.0%.

But once you break down the numbers a little more, Waterloo's youthfulness definitely faded between the 2006 and 2011 censuses.

Its median age was up from 35.4 in 2006 and Waterloo showed a decline in every one of the nine age categories under 45 with the exception of 15-19, where it essentially remained flat.

Of the 11 communities I looked at, it was one of only three that showed a drop in its number of 20-somethings (Windsor and Chatham-Kent were the other two). It's easier to show a decline when your population is skewed toward people in their 20s, but Waterloo also showed a huge decline in population among people in their 30s—with Windsor and Chatham-Kent again the only two with bigger drops.

Waterloo ranked 9th of 11 in population growth among people in their 20s, their 30s, and in the 20-44 range.

The leader in all three categories? The City of Kitchener. It may go against the traditional image, but as of the 2011 census, Kitchener had become a (slightly) younger city than Waterloo, with a median age of 37.2, and with huge gains in its population between 20 and 34 years old between 2006 and 2011.

Kitchener was the only one of the 11 communities to show an increase in 30-somethings and its 10.3% increase in population in their 20s blew away all other areas, as well as the provincial average of 8.2%

So Kitchener is now the youngest city in Waterloo Region.

If it's any consolation to Waterloo, Cambridge still has nearly five months on you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

FedDev formally announces new regional loan fund for small "knowledge-based" businesses

FedDev today officially announced the $12 million funding for the Western Ontario CFDC Association that I mentioned last month (see "Some FedDev fundings from January, February, March," June 5). The money is being used to create a new fund that will provide knowledge-based small and medium-sized businesses loans of up to $500,000.

All of Southwestern Ontario is in the region covered by the new fund. The Eastern Ontario CFDC Network has received $8 million for a similar fund for that region. Together, FedDev is calling the two new funds the Southern Ontario Fund for Investment in Innovation (SOFII).

Businesses can receive loans from $150,000 to $500,000. FedDev says companies will use the money for "all aspects of innovative SME growth challenges, including: late stage commercialization, new product or service development, new applications or markets, and development or implementation of new processes or technologies."

Although the core programs of CFDCs have focused on rural areas, when I talked to the WOCFDCA they said that, for this fund, they wanted to work with companies in urban areas as well.

On the SOFII website, it says that "knowledge-based industry includes, but is not limited to, firms involved in pharmaceuticals, health biotech, new materials, telecommunications, information technology, software, medical equipment and avionics."

Southwestern Ontario will be served through the office at the Sarnia Lambton Business Development Corporation.

UPDATE: This line from the SOFII website about eligibility was a little deflating: "Eligible organizations will: Employ 50 to 500 employees, or identify that there is a strong likelihood they will reach 50 employees within the term of the loan." Since there's less than two years left in FedDev's mandate, there aren't many early-stage tech companies that would be eligible.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No Southwestern Ontario Development Fund ... for now, anyway

The Ontario legislature has adjourned for the summer and the bill that would have created the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund (SWODF) got all the way to third reading debate but no further. [UPDATE: When the MPPs returned early to Queen's Park to prevent a teachers' strike, they also concluded third reading debate on Bill 11 and passed it on August 28.]

Just a few weeks ago, things seemed to be looking pretty good for Bill 11—the Attracting Investment and Creating Jobs Act, 2012 ("Path looks clear for the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund", May 2).

It had made it through committee with the addition of some amendments from the NDP (which they were proud of—London-Fanshawe MPP Teresa Armstrong called it "the first government bill in a generation that has been substantially rewritten in committee"). The governing Liberals and NDP had reached an agreement—or so it seemed—to pass the budget, and that appeared to leave plenty of time for third reading of Bill 11 before the summer adjournment.

It didn't work out that way. The budget ended up going down to the wire and was only passed on Wednesday. Third reading debate on Bill 11 began on May 2 and continued on May 10, but didn't resume until June 11. And then time ran out.

So, for now, there is still no Southwestern Ontario Development Fund, and it's unlikely that any funds will flow in 2012, even if the bill makes it through the legislature in the fall. A corporation would still need to be created to administer the fund and its board of directors appointed, along with an advisory committee—all before funds could be disbursed. The structure and criteria for the fund still need to be determined as well.

Since the bill never passed, we never got to the contentious issue of the geographic boundaries of the fund. You may have seen boundaries reported in several news stories, but those reports were inaccurate. The boundaries were to be part of the regulations, not the bill, and we never got that far.

The government's estimates for the current fiscal year—tabled two months ago—only included payments of $4 million for the proposed $20 million-a-year fund. Apparently, they never expected to be paying out a lot of cash under the SWODF program this year.

In third reading debate, the bill had the support of the Liberals and NDP. The official opposition PCs were opposed, with critic Monte McNaughton (also my MPP) saying it would be spending money the government didn't have and calling the regional development funds "corporate welfare."

Back to it in the fall ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Now I know where farm country is ... and see the food processing opportunities

When I lived in Waterloo, I used to be able to say that when I left my house, if I went right I'd be driving past farm fields in two minutes and if I went left I could be in downtown Waterloo in about three minutes. Having only lived in the Toronto and Boston areas before moving to Waterloo, being close to farms was a new experience—and one I really enjoyed (by the time I moved away, I was also a two-minute drive from Walmart—the neighbourhood was changing).

The western edge of Waterloo may have seemed somewhat rural to a Torontonian's eyes, but now that I've been living and working in the small urban and rural parts of Southwestern Ontario for a while, I finally know what real farm country looks like.

Statistics Canada recently released its 2011 Census of Agriculture, and the numbers bear out what I've experienced. When it comes to farms, Waterloo Region has nothing on most of Southwestern Ontario:

Waterloo falls near the bottom of the list for number of farms, although its neighbour to the northeast takes the top spot and Perth County to the west is just three spots below. You were surrounded by farms in Waterloo, but there weren't so many in the region itself.

I now live in Middlesex County, which places third on the list and the grey shaded areas are the counties that border on my home county (I shaded Middlesex as well). This is farm country.

When you just look at farms of 400 acres or more, the census gives this ranking:

Huron County is the clear leader, with Chatham-Kent, Lambton and Middlesex following in tight pack.

With so many farms surrounding them, you can see why the City of London (included in the Middlesex numbers here) and the Region of Waterloo have both emphasized food processing as a key component of their economic development plans. Both LEDC in London and CTT in Waterloo Region promote their areas as food processing centres. Both are members of the Ontario Food Cluster, along with the folks in Middlesex County, SLEP, SWEA, SOMA, Chatham-Kent and other parts of Southwestern Ontario (Toronto as well).

London is particularly well-positioned to become a food processing centre (or a larger one than it already is). When you look at a map of Southwestern Ontario, there's Waterloo Region and Guelph on the eastern edge and Windsor to the west, and then a large ring of farmland surrounding the London area and no other big urban centres nearby.

When I was the roving representative of the Ontario Network of Excellence program across this area, one of the leading challenges was to figure out how government-funded "innovation" programs could be made more relevant within this sector. Bioenterprise in Guelph has done a good job working with innovators in the agri-tech space, and it's very different from the digital media or medical devices spaces that I've had more experience with and where innovation resources tend to be focused.

The 2011 numbers haven't been released yet, but at the time of the 2006 general census, the percentage of the workforce in the London and Kitchener CMAs (in London's case, that includes parts of Middlesex and Elgin, as well as St. Thomas) was only around 4%, but they were two of the biggest areas for food processing/farming in the province.

There have been some big plant closings and expansions over the years since 2006, so it will be interesting to see where things are when the 2011 numbers are released. But the general pattern should be similar: the Toronto CMA, which includes most of the GTA, will dwarf everyone else, and Hamilton, London, Kitchener, and Niagara should all continue to show strong numbers.

I was a bit surprised by how dominant food processing and farming was in the Leamington workforce at the time of the 2006 census. Not surprised at all by Norfolk. And, of course, the Toronto CMA quickly falls from first place to last when placed in this context:

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

IRAP Q4 contributions for Digital Extremes, Sumagen, Polyanalytik, Miovision, Communitech, Plantform

A strong end to the fiscal year for London and area companies for NRC-IRAP contributions ($25K minimum). Disclosed for the quarter ended March 31 (Q4 12) were:

Sumagen Canada Inc. London $1,014,000
Digital Extremes Ltd. London $77,000
The Sansin Corporation Strathroy $34,140
Polyanalytik Inc. London $30,000

The Sumagen funding was the largest disclosed NRC-IRAP contribution in the region for the year. The full list for fiscal 2012—much shorter than what we saw in the previous two years with the additional stimulus funding:

Sumagen Canada Inc. London $1,014,000
Cyborg Trading SystemsLondon$115,000
Digital Extremes Ltd. London $77,000
Quantum5x Systems Inc.London$50,000
Bluestreak Equipment Inc.Delhi$49,050
The Sansin Corporation Strathroy $34,140
Techalliance Of Southwestern Ontario Inc.London$30,000
Polyanalytik Inc. London $30,000
The Money Broker Inc.Blenheim$28,685
Givens Engineering Inc.London$27,285

Some notable Q4 contributions from other areas:

Plantform Corporation Toronto/Guelph $283,357
Network For Innovation And Entrepreneurship Toronto $275,000
Communitech Corporation Kitchener $135,452
MaRS Discovery District Toronto $86,000
Miovision Technologies Incorporated Kitchener $26,000

Plantform also has an office at The Research Park in Sarnia.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Some FedDev fundings from January, February, March

FedDev has disclosed its contributions for the final quarter of the 2012 fiscal year —covering January, February and March of this year. Here are the top 10 projects for the period by dollars committed:

University Of TorontoToronto$20,000,000
Alliance Of Manufacturers And Exporters Of CanadaMississauga$18,900,000
York UniversityToronto$15,549,290
Western Ontario CFDC Association Inc.Brantford$12,000,000
Ontario Brain InstituteToronto$10,971,133
Cytec Canada Inc.Niagara Falls$10,000,000
Dr. Oetker Canada Ltd.Mississauga$10,000,000
Ivaco Rolling Mills (2004) L.P.L'Orignal$10,000,000
Eastern Ontario CFDC NetworkPeterborough$8,000,000
Royal Conservatory Of MusicToronto$7,500,000

The announcement of the $10 million repayable contribution to Dr. Oetker Canada was made on May 24 in London, but the actual funding was made two months earlier. There's often quite a lag between the funding and the announcement.

I don't think we've heard an announcement about the $12 million given to the Western Ontario CFDC Association, but two months ago they were advertising a job opening for someone to manage a business loan fund "intended to support community innovation and business development" under FedDev's Prosperity Initiative. So now we know the amount of money involved (over a two-year period). It will be interesting to see the details once the formal announcement is made. The Western Ontario CFDC Association covers an area that includes all of Southwestern Ontario.

Four of the five biggest FedDev fundings of the year took place in Q4, and U of T's $20 million was the largest of the year, edging out the University of Waterloo's $19.6 million, awarded in August.

Some other notable FedDev fundings in the quarter:

Sunnybrook Research Institute Toronto$6,910,000
Yves Landry Foundation Toronto$5,000,000
Research Innovation Commercialization Centre Mississauga $4,999,575
Vineland Research And Innovation CentreVineland Station $2,511,035
Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics Waterloo $1,730,000
Ontario Centres Of ExcellenceToronto $1,102,500
Primal Fusion (Primal)Waterloo $987,500
Perth County IngredientsSt. Marys $947,500
Bigroad Incorporated Waterloo $750,000
Huron Business Development Corporation Seaforth$719,154
Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation Sarnia$645,000
Qwalify Inc. Waterloo $250,000

The Sunnybrook funding involves Western University as a partner and was announced last month. The CFDCs across Southern Ontario are funded through FedDev, so there are several of them on the list.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fastest growing (and shrinking) Southwestern Ontario communities

Just when I thought I was finished with census numbers...

The next batch of data from the 2011 census was released yesterday—populations across the country broken down by age and sex.

I filtered the data for communities in Southwestern Ontario (population of 5,000 or more) to see which were the fastest growing and declining since the last census in 2006. I had to do this manually, so it's possible that someplace got overlooked, but here are some graphs taken from that data, with an emphasis on what Statistics Canada calls working age—the 15 to 64 group.

For these lists, I included communities in Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent, Lambton, London-Middlesex, St. Thomas-Elgin, Stratford-St. Marys-Perth, Huron, Grey, Bruce, Oxford, Norfolk, Haldimand, Brant-Brantford, Waterloo Region, and Guelph-Wellington.

At the top of the list, it's a sweep for Waterloo Region with all four top spots, and Cambridge also making the top 10. Guelph is in the top ten, as are communities in Bruce (Saugeen Shores), Oxford (Woodstock), Middlesex (Middlesex Centre) and Huron (Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh).

The Blue Mountains in Grey County had the largest population decline in the working age category. Windsor-Essex took three spots in the bottom 10 and Chatham-Kent also showed a significant drop.

To round off the lists, here are the fastest growing communities for children and seniors. Woolwich, Wilmot and Wellesley score well across the board:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Final census crunch: Immigrants and visible minorities in Southwestern Ontario

One last look at some census numbers for selected Southwestern Ontario regions (selected because—other than Waterloo—they comprised the area I was covering for the Ministry of Research and Innovation's Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE) program), this time looking at immigrants and visible minorities and the concentration of each across these regions.

Much has been written about the vital role of immigrant entrepreneurs—particularly in Silicon Valley (for example, Vivek Wadhwa's "How the Indians Conquered Silicon Valley"). Within Southwestern Ontario, you'll find many regions looking to be more attractive to immigrants as part of an economic development strategy—in Chatham-Kent, for example, where it was mentioned just last week by mayor Randy Hope is his annual state-of-the-municipality-style adddress.

EcDev guru Richard Florida and his enthusiasts have been high profile proponents of the idea that the level of immigrants and visible minorities are either a component of or a proxy measure for tolerance and openness to diversity, which they believe are key drivers of the vitality and economic prospects of a region.

Being Toronto-born and raised, this was one where I wasn't expecting to see impressive scores in Southwestern Ontario and certainly not from Waterloo. More than a couple of times over the years, I had people from Toronto come to Waterloo for meetings and remark in hushed tones on the apparent lack of diversity in the city (once you're off the UW campus, anyway). Coming from Toronto, it's hard to miss.

And no area I looked at in Southwestern Ontario comes close to matching the GTA (actually, the Toronto CMA which is most of the GTA) for immigrants and visible minorities, but that much was a given. What was suprising to me was how well Waterloo scored relative to every other area.

It's no surprise that the large urban areas and their regions are all at the top of the lists and there's a chasm between them and the small urban and rural regions. Among these Southwestern Ontario regions, Waterloo is a clear leader in both immigrants and visible minorities, with London coming not far behind in immigrants.

When you look at recent immigrants (people who have immigrated in the last five years), Waterloo scores very well, even making up some ground on the Toronto area—the only region I looked at that did so.

If immigrants are a key component of building an entrepreneurial base and culture, then the small urban and rural areas are clearly at a major disadvantage. Waterloo, on the other hand—at least by Southwestern Ontario standards—is a downright mosaic. Would never have guesssed that two years ago.

This is continued from: "More census crunching: Income and housing expenses in Southwestern Ontario" and "Education and age differences across Southwestern Ontario and implications for 'innovation' support." Also see "Adapting innovation programs to small urban and rural areas," the first post in this series.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More census crunching: Income and housing expenses in Southwestern Ontario

A couple of more items from my round of census crunching. The last post discussed age and education, and this time I'll look at income and housing expenses. I'm not sure this has much effect on innovation support programs, but I found it interesting. It also reveals one other dimension in which the City of Waterloo is a clear outlier (along with being off-the-charts in university education and in the presence of residents in their 20s).

The median income for "married-couple families" (which I selected from the many different income categories only because it's one I fall into) shows a ranking that probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, with the large urban areas—or regions including large urban areas—all grouped together at the high end of the range:

But while the order didn't surprise me, there were a couple things I hadn't expected. The first was just how much of an outlier the City of Waterloo is for income. It's not just ahead of the pack, it's way out in front. (And remember these are median incomes, not averages, so half would come in above this number and half below.) Waterloo is about 20% above the provincial median and nearly that much above the City of London and the Toronto CMA. That's a much bigger gap than I would have guessed.

The other thing I found interesting was—Waterloo aside—how little difference there was between all the other areas, with the exception of Huron County which is clearly trailing the pack. Every other region shows a median income in this category between $71K and $78K, and that includes everything from the Toronto CMA and London to the small urban and rural counties. Lambton County median income was just barely below that of the Toronto area. (I wouldn't read into this that particular jobs aren't higher paying in Toronto, because I think they definitely are, but this is balanced by more lower paying jobs so that the median is about the same).

The census numbers for median mortgage and rent payments (technically, it's "payments for owner-occupied dwellings" and "payments for rented dwellings") are about what you'd expect as well, again with the large urban areas together on the high end and Toronto being clearly the most expensive:

One final number that surprised me: when you look at the median income of "all private households"—much broader than married couple families—the City of London falls to near the bottom of the list, while the other urban areas remain together at the top:

Not sure what to make of that one. (The City of London scores very highly in the percentage of dwellings that are rented—way higher than all the others, even the Toronto CMA—so the explanation is probably that there are more people with income below the median who are living on their own—or even with others, with a combined income below the median. This could be an example where the stats look negative but the underlying reality isn't bad.)

One more to come on immigration and visible minorities, then back to innovation and entrepreneurship.

This is continued from: Education and age differences across Southwestern Ontario and implications for "innovation" support. It continues with: Final census crunch: Immigrants and visible minorities in Southwestern Ontario.

Can Windsor use a non-snub to energize a focus on innovation?

OMG, did you hear? There's a new $100 million "Innovation SuperCorridor" initiative from the province introduced in the budget...