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Leamington`s challenge: bouncing back despite low educational attainment

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There have been a lot of plant closures announced lately, including several in the food processing sector, which municipalities across Southwestern Ontario promote as one of their strengths.

Leamington was particularly hard hit by news that Heinz is shutting down its plant there, where it is both the largest employer and taxpayer. Although there are many places in Ontario that have more people working in the food processing/manufacturing sector, Leamington has—by far— the highest concentration of those workers (NHS 2011) and Heinz was the foundation of the local industry.

Leamington is also notable for having Ontario's lowest percentage of residents with any university or college degree, diploma or certificate, at least among the more populated parts of the province. And, again, it's by a noticeably wide margin:


(On the chart, "SSPerth" is the combined Stratford-St. Marys-Perth County area, "Big26" is the 26 most populated municipalities in Ontario, "S…

Rebellion Media tops IRAP Q2 contributions in SWOntario

Waterloo's Rebellion Media was awarded the largest IRAP contribution in the country—$500,000 —in the quarter ended September 30 (Q2 1014), according to NRC's disclosures. Other companies in Southwestern Ontario that received IRAP funding included London's Big Blue Bubble and Kitchener's Miovision. Contributions were awarded to organizations in Waterloo Region, London, Middlesex, Windsor, Essex, Guelph, Chatham-Kent, Grey, Bruce, Norfolk, and Brant.

Among organizations in Ontario supporting innovation, MaRS, Invest Ottawa, VentureLab, Communitech and OCE all were awarded contributions of $250,000 or more.

Q2 IRAP contributions to Southwestern Ontario-based organizations:

Rebellion MediaWaterloo$500,000Whitfield WeldingOldcastle$312,000CommunitechKitchener$275,000Concours MoldLakeshore$150,000Eclipse AutomationCambridge$99,999Sport Systems UnlimitedWaterloo$99,000HNH MachineLondon$98,393Pavaco PlasticsGuelph$80,857CenterlineWindsor$80,000WEtech AllianceWindsor$70,000Big B…

RIM was the Beatles of Waterloo's tech sector, but not its foundation

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that—according to the recently-released 2011 National Household Survey—the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo census metro area (CMA) had passed the Ottawa CMA for percentage of residents working in software & IT & computer and communications manufacturing. I noted that a lot of that was due to RIM/BlackBerry, and that becomes clear if you back out the communications equipment manufacturing component.

According to the NHS, KCW (not exactly the same as Waterloo Region, but close) had 40% of all communications equipment manufacturing workers in Ontario—that is, people working in any role for companies in the communications equipment manufacturing sector.

That's really an amazing number. There are very few sectors where the Toronto CMA wasn't in top place for total numbers, which is what you'd expect from a region that comprises 44% of Ontario's population. It was even number one among CMAs and CAs for farm workers. But not only was communi…

Highlights of Ontario innovation payments, FY2013

The Public Accounts of Ontario for fiscal year 2013 (ended March 31) were released last week, giving us our only detailed breakdown of the money spent by the government over the last year. Federal disclosures are more timely and thorough than provincial, with federal ministries and agencies required to disclose transfer payments of $25,000 or more every quarter. The cutoff for Ontario's public accounts is $120,000, so any payments by the provincial government below that amount aren't specified.

Some of the disclosed transfer payments to organizations supporting innovation (these are all from the Ministry of Research and Innovation—which was part of the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation at the time—unless otherwise noted):

Ontario Centres Of Excellence (OCE)$34,063,733Ontario Capital Growth Corporation $18,000,000MaRS Discovery District$17,584,660Communitech $10,441,690MaRS Discovery District [MCYS]$10,000,000MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund $8,375,000Vineland Rese…

Big Viking, Fongo, Aeryon, Rebellion among IRAP Q1 contributions

IRAP-backed projects have traditionally been a great way to find companies doing innovative things across a wide range of sectors—and in big urban, small urban, and rural areas. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, Ontario Drive and Gear and Biorem received the largest IRAP contributions among Southwestern Ontario companies. Both have a track record of working with IRAP, as does Aeryon Labs, which received the third-largest contribution across the region.

London's Big Viking Games, Waterloo's Fongo, and Waterloo's Rebellion Media Group all received their first disclosed IRAP contributions in the quarter. Veteran Waterloo Region tech companies Campana Systems, Virtek, and Huron Technologies (formerly Biomedical Photometrics) were also among Q1 recipients.

Disclosed IRAP contributions in Southwestern Ontario, Q1 FY2014:

Ontario Drive And Gear (ODG)New Hamburg$249,565Biorem TechnologiesGuelph$202,500Aeryon LabsWaterloo$149,993Hauser IndustriesWaterloo$99,900Xtivity

$12.6M for Windsor airport tops Q1 FedDev contributions

Southwestern Ontario received the biggest FedDev contribution in the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, with $12.6 million awarded to the Windsor airport—Your Quick Gateway (Windsor) Inc.—through the Prosperity Initiative program. The funding closed in April.

Across the region, most of the FedDev fundings in the quarter were for municipal infrastructure and the annual funding for the regional CFDC offices. There was no direct funding for any other businesses.

The other funding of note was $367,500 to Guelph-based Bioenterprise through the Scientists and Engineers in Business program, which has now committed all of its funds. That program helps STEM grads build business skills and launch startups.

For university degrees in Ontario, Waterloo has two peers ...

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When I looked at the National Household Survey numbers a few weeks ago and saw that 47% of the population of the City of Waterloo in the 25-64 age range had a university degree, I tweeted that this was a number that would be hard to beat. You aren't going to find many cities with a population just under 100,000 (using census numbers) and two universities, so it seemed like a number that other communities wouldn't be able to match.

It turns out that there are two other towns in Ontario that are right up there with Waterloo. Richmond Hill actually comes out slightly on top using the NHS figures (47.3% vs Waterloo's 46.8%), although I suspect that's within the sampling error. Oakville is also in the top group with 46.1% of its population with university degrees. There's then a noticable drop to Ottawa in fourth place (42.8%).

So, Waterloo is at the high end of the scale—and in an elite group—but a group with a couple of other members.

The Waterloo ranking is for the C…

Waterloo area leaps past Ottawa

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According to the recently released National Household Survey 2011, the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo census metropolitan area (CMA) has leaped past the Ottawa CMA to have Ontario's highest concentration of people working in the software, IT and computer/communications manufacturing sectors (combining NAICS categories 5112, 5415, 3341, 3342).

I haven't checked historical census data, but I'd have to think that's the first time that's happened. A lot of that was due to RIM/BlackBerry, and the numbers there aren't as rosy today as they were when the survey was conducted, but the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo numbers were up by almost 70% since 2006, while Ottawa's were down by about 20%.

Guelph and Centre Wellington also showed significant growth in the combined sectors since 2006. The London CMA—where I live—was down almost 9%, with most of the decline coming from the manufacturing side.

UPDATE: Since this was retweeted outside of Southwestern Ontario, I swapp…

FedDev Q4: TribeHR, big contributions in Woodstock and Brampton ... and a lot of community infrastructure

After spending the last year focused on helping businesses, FedDev turned its attention back to infrastructure for its new contributions in the period ended March 31.

With the rollout of the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, there was a ton of activity disclosed in the quarter, with over 100 projects funded in Southwestern Ontario alone. The largest was a $775,224 toward the City of Waterloo's upgrade of Waterloo Park. You can see the full list of funded projects.

There were only three new disclosed repayable contributions for Southwestern Ontario businesses in the quarter.

First, there was the $542,399 in Investing in Business Innovation funding for Kitchener's TribeHR that was announced not long after it happened (still a rarity with government funding of all kinds).

The other two were large contributions under FedDev's Prosperity Initiative—$2.5 million to Woodstock's NASG Canada (North American Stamping Group) and another $2.5 million for a company in Bra…

Strawman arguments against government support for startups still leave tough questions to answer

Last July, I mentioned that "there is increasingly a mood in Canada that we've been wasting too many resources on small startups that will never become large firms." In the months since, there's been a lot more written on that theme, much of it aimed at government policymakers.

There can be more than a touch of theatrical performance in these pieces. Often, the intended-but-not-explicit message is "why government needs to provide more funding for things we do ... and less for things those guys are doing"  (or, "why government should have funded what we do and not that tripe they chose to fund instead").

But, motivations aside, the ideas will stand or fall on their own. The pieces I've read have largely been rebuttals of strawman arguments for why startups are supported in the first place and come from a highly hands-on view of government's role in building businesses.

It's not unreasonable to question whether we should skew our limite…

My lean (ugh) startup guru

I had my introduction to management consulting in the 1990s—the peak of the management fad era that had begun the previous decade. One of the biggest fads was "reengineering"—so popular that it became the euphemism of choice for "layoffs" which, in practice, was already a euphemism for job cuts. There were a lot of those in the 90s, and you couldn't go long without hearing about some company's new "reengineering" strategy.

Veteran consultants told me there really wasn't much that was new about reengineering other than the label—which they would often roll their eyes at. But it was new to me (just about everything was), and became one of the many management philosophies and methodologies I immersed myself in through the decade.

Somehow, I've now become one of the experienced guys, and today I think back to those times whenever I hear "lean" around startups. Eye rolling is often involved.

I'm a big supporter of many of the core…

Spinning the unemployment numbers

Statistics Canada releases its Labour Force Information report every month, and while each edition contains many new numbers, almost all of them play a barely-audible second-fiddle to the unemployment rate.

I live in part of Middlesex County that falls within the London census metropolitan area (CMA). This area had a panic attack when the March figures were released a couple of weeks ago. You'll quickly see why when you scan the unemployment rates of the 15 CMAs in Ontario covered in the report:

Guelph6.0%Ottawa6.1Hamilton6.1Thunder Bay6.3Kingston6.3Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo  7.2  Barrie7.3Brantford7.7Greater Sudbury7.8St. Catharines-Niagara7.9Toronto8.4Oshawa8.6Windsor9.0London9.6Peterborough10.2
You might think it would be hard to put out a positive spin when your number is second from the bottom (and as close to the bottom as it is to the one ahead of you). But when you look at the numbers—all of the numbers—it turns out that it's not so difficult to find a silver l…

Cyborg Trading receives largest IRAP contribution in Canada in Q3 disclosures

Just a few weeks after Cyborg Trading received $381,500 through FedDev's Prosperity Initiative, the company got another big boost, this time from IRAP—a long-time supporter of the company. Cyborg has received $842,000, the largest contribution made by IRAP anywhere in Canada in the quarter (it actually happened late in IRAP's Q2, but was disclosed with the Q3 contributions).

Also receiving six-figure contributions (or thereabouts) were Pyramid Farms in Leamington and Waterloo Region's Accelerator Centre, Clearpath Robotics, and Miovision Technologies.

Disclosed IRAP contributions, Q3 FY2013:

Cyborg Trading SystemsLondon$842,000Pyramid FarmsLeamington$203,265Accelerator CentreWaterloo$125,000Clearpath RoboticsKitchener$103,000Miovision TechnologiesKitchener$99,999Innovation GuelphGuelph$80,000Sarnia-Lambton Economic PartnershipSarnia$80,000Guelph Chamber Of CommerceGuelph$65,000Ball MediaBrantford$50,000Applied Comfort ProductsCambridge$50,000Intelligent Health SolutionsFergu…

FedDev Q3: Big contributions for Southwestern Ontario topped by Western's $13.7M

FedDev has disclosed its contributions for the period ended December 31 and it was a strong quarter for Southwestern Ontario, which accounted for five of the top seven new fundings.

The largest contribution in the province was the $13.7 million for Western University to go toward the Fraunhofer Project Centre and a new centre for commercialization of advanced manufacturing technology. That funding, under FedDev's Prosperity Initiative, was announced in November.

FedDev's second largest funding in the quarter also went to Southwestern Ontario—$7.3 million to the University of Windsor, also under the Prosperity Initiative program. I haven't seen an announcement for that one yet. Windsor had been looking for FedDev funding for its new Institute for Border Logistics and Security, but I don't know if this is related to that or something else. [UPDATE: That's what it was. It wasn't announced until October ... seven months after I posted this.]

Disclosed FedDev fundin…

Population densities in Southwestern Ontario and the urban/rural divide

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It's municipal budget season again, which brings a slew of reports and presentations related to short-term and long-term funding needs.

Earlier this week, Chatham-Kent council received a consultant's report comparing population densities among various Ontario municipalities. Population density can be a significant factor in municipal expenses and tax rates as low-density areas have to figure out how to provide services to a population spread out over a wider area.

The report showed Chatham-Kent at the bottom end of the density chart, completely dwarfed by every other municipality shown. I expect Chatham-Kent to have a low density, but having spent the last couple of years living and working in low-density areas, it wasn't clear to me that it was really that much of an outlier.


It turns out that it isn't. When you look at population density figures for all top-tier municipalities in Southwestern Ontario, Chatham-Kent's is comparable to that of surrounding small urb…