June 19, 2021 — Our economy doesn’t function according to borders on a map, so we need a regional, nuanced approach to economic recovery.
Here’s the truth: there will be no Toronto economic recovery.
Nor will there be a Mississauga or Hamilton one. Same goes for Oakville, Brampton, Oshawa and any of the other 34 municipalities that make up Canada’s Innovation Corridor.
That’s because our economy doesn’t function according to borders on a map. Most people implicitly know this, like the supplier who gets their materials from Guelph, makes their goods in Vaughan and ships to stores lining Lake Ontario. Or health-care, education and other essential workers who, even during the pandemic, commute between two or three public transit systems.
Yet when it comes to stimulating a strong economic rebound from this pandemic-fuelled recession, we expect cities to plan for themselves. The same cities saddled with an unsustainable funding model that requires them to go to provincial and federal governments for piecemeal, project-by-project funding to spend within their city limits — even if their people and goods move beyond them.
But what if there was another way to view, characterize and engage with our regional economic makeup? At the Toronto Region Board of Trade, we’ve used research and insights from our data-driven Economic Blueprint Institute (EBI) to map the region not by its municipal boundaries but instead into five business districts defined by the economic activity taking place within them and physical characteristics. Three-quarters of all corridor jobs are in one of these five districts.
It’s not just a matter of grouping sectors together. There are unique, place-based economic enablers that drive growth in each district, like resource sharing, attracting talent and mutually beneficial infrastructure. Each district also faces its own challenges and opportunities for recovery. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for any city.
There are practical applications of this data, too. For instance, our research found that warehouses and e-commerce fulfilment centres around Pearson airport, a zone that cuts between Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton, require two-thirds of their workforce on-site, one of the lowest capacities for remote work in the entire region. We shared this insight in early April, highlighting how these essential workers has a disproportionate risk of exposure. A week later on-site vaccination clinics were rolled out in the area.
In other words, we need to elevate the conversation to a regional level to really understand the pandemic’s impact and begin to mend those fractures. There’s appetite for this, too. The board, as a convenor of business and city leaders, has brought together city managers from across the corridor who are eager to co-ordinate.
Business districts capture what we’ve craved throughout this pandemic: research, data and mapping that transcend municipal boundaries to reflect what’s happening on the ground every day. It’s the story of our dynamic, multifaceted regional economy, and unless we tailor our recovery planning accordingly, we risk falling behind in the global race out of this recession.
Jan De Silva is president and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade. The Business District Report Series is made possible with the generous support of the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario (FedDev).
This op-ed was originally published in the Toronto Star.
About Toronto Region Board of Trade
The Toronto Region Board of Trade is one of the largest and most influential business chambers in North America and is a catalyst for the region’s economic agenda. We pursue policy change to drive the growth and competitiveness of the Toronto region and facilitate market opportunities with programs, partnerships and connections to help our members succeed – domestically and internationally.
Andrew Perez, Media Relations Manager