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"London's array of assets makes it a resilient city"

This article was published in The London Free Press on June 11, 2007.
Written by Frank McKenna.

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Most Londoners are riding the current wave of economic prosperity, but some are caught in the undertow. Many manufacturing jobs, for instance, have been swallowed up or pulled offshore recently.

Some say local business simply cannot compete against low-cost jurisdictions, especially as the rising Canadian dollar makes domestic goods and services more expensive to sell abroad.

There are forces beyond local control. But Canada's 10th-largest city has always been a resilient player, and, in my estimation, remains so.

London's job growth rate was triple the provincial one in the past year, translating into a gain of 10,000 plus positions. The low vacancy rate in apartments is one recent signal of the city's strength.

What enables London's economy to remain buoyant against a tide of global competition? A good part has to do with its diversity.

The city is home to an impressive array of industry clusters. A wide range of companies employ more than 1,000 people each, including seven health care organizations, six manufacturers, five educational institutions and two financial services companies. The TD employs more -- about 3,500 people.

Like investors that diversify their holdings to mitigate risk and maximize returns, local leaders have shown equal savvy.

This includes traditional "holdings" like automotive manufacturing. Despite the challenges facing North American companies, one can't overlook the long term value of this industry. That's because investment in the sector is at an all-time high. And as research shows, companies that build plants or expand existing ones also create new jobs.

Other clusters offer significant promise. London is a leader in the field of health care, employing almost the same number of people as manufacturing does. Two local institutes attract close to $100-million annually in research funding; a tremendous platform on which to spin-off new jobs and ventures.

Information technology is another key sector with significant promise.

It's a testament to London's mix of innovators who've established more than 200 firms in the region.

Diversification is a lot easier said than done, requiring significant investments. Here again, London has a mix of assets and attributes that leaders could build upon. A partial list includes:

- Newcomers: Smart money follows smart people. This city is home to a fast-growing multicultural community, with visible minorities representing more than 10 percent of the total population. Such diversity provides local business with a global perspective and an open mind, complementing the talented pool of workers that already reside here.

London has already proven it has open arms. This community has a higher percentage of refugees than the Ontario average. Yet London's growth is outpaced by communities like Kitchener. The recent opening of the centre to assist foreign-trained professionals is a good step toward attracting more people to the region.

- Intellectual infrastructure: Knowledge workers tend to congregate around learning centres. One can't overstate the importance of the University of Western Ontario. It's renowned internationally for the leaders it produces and ideas it generates. Few centres have done so much to advance our collective insight and understanding of the world we live in.

This city is also home to the remarkable Fanshawe College as well as a network of vocational schools, not to mention research institutes, libraries and museums. All these assets could play a starring role in future branding campaigns.

Interestingly, a recently published "learning index", which measures areas related to lifelong learning, found local residents on par with the rest of Canada. Leaders may want to explore ways in which workers can take better advantage of London's learning centres.

- Physical infrastructure: Recent headlines about aging water pipes underscore the link between infrastructure and quality of life. Roadways offer another example. Not only can a deteriorating road impede commerce, it can also contribute to longer commute times and increased pollution.

Locals have discussed a ring road since the days of premier John Robarts first government. Some reservations relate to funding. Government, a various levels, needs to shift some of the costs and risks of these projects to the private sector.

A TD Economics report argues these arrangements have the potential to deliver infrastructure more cost efficiently at equal, or even enhanced, levels of service.

- Amenities: The John Labatt Centre provides an excellent example of the point above, according to the Canadian Council for Public-Private partnerships: Equally important it is part of an exciting collection of amenities that ensure locals enjoy diverse lifestyle experiences. These facilities go along way to enhance community life.

- Quality of place: Natural settings also offer benefits to the city.

That's why planting more trees in the Forest City goes beyond the aesthetic. It speaks to the city's overall reputation as a desirable place to live.

Diversity and long-term prosperity are interrelated. Investors know you can't have one without the other. Local leaders know this as well, and have helped foster an impressive array of assets; whether they have to do with industry, people, ideas or experiences. This is the London advantage, one that ensures the city remains an exciting place to invest, work and play.


Executive Headshot :  Frank McKenna
Frank McKenna
Deputy Chair
TD Bank Group

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