BY WAYNE EMMERSON

There’s a growing sense that Ontario, often described as Canada’s economic engine, has stalled for anyone not in the so-called “knowledge economy.”

Professionals may be doing fine, but workers like those hired to keep Oshawa’s GM plant running are being left behind. For that sector of the workforce, the economy of the last decade has been more about worrying if or when a pink slip might be coming.

There’s no denying the economy has changed; a shift away from the type of well-paying, blue-collar jobs that built a strong middle class. However, we can’t turn over our entire economy to the service sector. We have to ensure we build out our productive capacity.


The General Motors plant in Oshawa. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

In the changing world in which we live, this means a shift towards high-value manufacturing and away from low-cost mass production with its lower wages.

The bigger question is how? How do you entice companies wishing to invest in higher value manufacturing to our region so they can bring high-value jobs along with them?

Last month, Dr. John Kasarda and Dr. Richard Florida visited the Toronto Region Board of Trade to present a vision for economic growth centred on the development of the Pickering Airport Lands. It’s the first step in the development of an economic engine that could transform the future of the entire eastern GTA, including the Regional Municipality of York.

This opportunity is built on the concept of the Aerotropolis. As the economy has transformed into the 21st century, the airport has moved beyond being merely a piece of infrastructure. Instead, it has become a critical access point in the global economic network.

High-value businesses that employ a large number of people in a variety of roles — such as aerospace, biopharma and electronics — are willing to pay premiums to be close to them, making international airports a driver of economic development.

The Aerotropolis model shows development of large international airports draw companies from around the world to build nearby. Those companies need a range of workers from CFOs to technicians and warehouse staff to run their operations. In turn, local economies scale up to serve these businesses.

Many of us have already seen first-hand how that relationship can work. The growth of Toronto Pearson International Airport and the surrounding region is a dynamic, powerful economic force. It includes industries that lead economic development for all types of workers, such as advanced manufacturing, information technology and life sciences.

But with significant traffic congestion in and around a single airport serving the GTA, it is time to think proactively about our future — and the need to build an accessible alternative to the east.

But if airports are a catalyst for growth and opportunity, why isn’t every city working to get one built? The answer is simple: land. The fact is no other city centre the size of the GTA has this much land available for airport development located near the existing required infrastructure.

If given the opportunity, a new airport in Pickering has the potential to create tens of thousands of new jobs and fuel economic growth across York Region, Durham Region and the City of Toronto.

We have a tremendous, globally-unique opportunity to build our communities, foster new jobs and shape our futures. We just need to seize it.

Wayne Emmerson is Chairman and CEO for the Regional Municipality of York

GUEST COLUMN: Kick-starting our stalled economic engine

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