De-Industrializing Oshawa readies for the future

For decades, Oshawa has been synonymous with the automotive industry. That identity has faded as its largest employer in that sector, General Motors, steadily shrinks its employment footprint in the motor city east of Toronto.
Oshawa’s answer has been to recast itself as a fast-growing, post-industrial city a quick 45-minute drive (traffic permitting) from the clogged arterial roadways of Canada’s largest city.
“We are kind of in the middle of a paradigm shift from the kind of the industrial-class industrial city to a city of health and education,” said David Tuley, Oshawa’s Downtown Development officer.
The city of 155,000 recently released its 2013 Development Insider report, which describes Oshawa’s current and future growth plans and the various incentives it can offer to real estate companies.
Eastern Fringe of the GTA
Oshawa’s document shows that there is some benefit to being at the edge of the GTA frenzy:
In 2012, the city saw more than $309 million in building permit values with significant investments in residential and commercial developments.
In fact, last year Oshawa achieved the third-highest commercial and residential construction values in its history.
Over the past year, the city received new investments from companies such as Velcan Forest Products, vehicle salvager Impact Auto and GO Transit’s new 160,000-square-foot bus services facility.
Solid growth ahead
Rather than shrinking along with its most well-known employer, Oshawa is projected to benefit from the frenzied growth of the GTA.
The city has added nearly 15,000 people to its population base since 2006 and is projected to add nearly 10,000 more in the next five years and about the same amount over the following half decade to stand at 174,006 people by 2022.
Oshawa’s economy will expand by 2.6 per cent this year, boosted by gains in the manufacturing and services sectors, according to a February 2013 report by the Conference Board of Canada.
Quality of life a big seller
Oshawa’s location on the eastern side of the GTA is positioned by city officials as a quality-of-life bonus for potential employers.
“You are not eating up those 10 hours a week sitting in a car or sitting in the GO Train,” said Rhonda Keenan, business development manager with the City of Oshawa. “Definitely there is a benefit (away) from that Toronto gridlock from Oshawa’s perspective.”
The current year has also seen a number of development announcements:
* In March, plans were unveiled for a new, $25-million Downtown Hotel and Convention Centre that will include a 125-room hotel, restaurant and convention centre. Construction begins on that project this year with completion slated for 2014.
* Ivanhoe Cambridge announced a $230-million expansion and redevelopment project for the Oshawa Centre shopping mall.
* Fresh Del Monte Produce has acquired a 108,000-square-foot facility and will be opening its first distribution and fresh-cut operation in Canada later this year.
Oshawa has also launched its first co-working / entrepreneurship space in the hub of downtown Oshawa dubbed Core 21. The main tenants of the newly constructed building include the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the Spark Centre for innovation, Durham Region’s version of MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
Spurring the growth is a favourable economic regime.
“We are a development-friendly community, offering no city development charges in the downtown core as well as for industrial development,” said Keenan.
Regional development charges still apply, however.
Infrastructural support
A mix of infrastructure-led development opportunities will also spur growth beyond 2013, Keenan noted. Those include:
* Eastward expansion of the Highway 407 toll road, part of a $1-billion investment with a target completion date of 2015. Extension of the 407, which runs parallel to the often at-capacity 401 highway, will create opportunities “for key industrial and commercial development projects” the city stated.
* The Oshawa Port Authority has approved a land use plan for its lands around the Oshawa Harbour and is finalizing its Oshawa Waterfront Master Plan. In addition, construction is underway for a new CN rail spur into the Oshawa Port for cargo shipments through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
* Infrastructure investments at the Oshawa Municipal Airport – runway improvements, a new taxiway and GPS/WAAS approaches – have attracted new aviation businesses. Over the last three years, the airport has seen the construction of more than 150,000 sq. ft. of new hangar developments.
Oshawa could also benefit from the potential $6-billion to $9-billion refurbishment of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in nearby Clarington.

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