That was the message from panelists John McKendrick, executive vice-president with responsibilities for project delivery at Infrastructure Ontario (IO), and Toronto councillor Michael Thompson, who chairs the Toronto Economic Development and Culture Committee and is also chair of Invest Toronto. Both spoke to attendees during the CEO breakfast at The Buildings Show, which was held Dec. 3 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
McKendrick and Thompson were joined on stage by Toronto Construction Association (TCA) president and CEO John Mollenhauer, whose official role was discussion moderator, but as the chief executive representing more than 2,200 TCA member companies he often joined in the discussion.
The GTA’s future looks bright said the high-powered panelists, laying out a long list of current and upcoming public projects on the books of the City of Toronto, the province and Metrolinx that amount to many tens of billions worth of construction work. As for the private sector, there are 70,000 condo units already sold that are slated for construction in the near term, even if the recent momentum for condo buildings has stalled, noted Mollenhauer. What, he then asked Thompson, did he see for office and mixed-used projects?
In response, Thompson made a strong case for a Toronto advantage among world cities looking to attract newcomers and investment.
“In the past six months, there have been many people coming into my office saying, we want to build offices in Toronto,” said Thompson. “There is a tremendous push to build offices in downtown Toronto.”
The city’s planning department has just launched a new three-year program called TOcore, said Thompson, that will focus on the downtown as a place to live, work and invest. Included will be “soft” infrastructure such as parks and support for vulnerable citizens.
“A lot of people want to be here,” said Thompson.
Thompson returned to the theme later on, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent banner while overseas that declared, “Diversity is Canada’s Strength.” That borrows from Toronto’s motto, he says, which is “Diversity our Strength.” But Thompson didn’t complain about the appropriation, and argued that the city’s diversity is a key strength in attracting investment. Newcomers have links to many of the world’s nations, he said, presenting outreach business opportunities.
“Toronto will be growing more in the future,” he said. “Here’s a little secret, more Americans are wanting to move to Canada with some of the problems they have down there, the shootings…people want to be here.”
The city has a thriving culture that attracts top talent, he said, and it is a caring city that welcomes people.
The city’s universities are top rated and Ontario has generous provisions permitting international students to work in the province after graduation (through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program).
It all adds up to a city that businesses, investors and potential residents find very attractive, said Thompson which bodes well for the future.