Monday, March 29, 2010

Driving Home the Jobs

    The fire has been stoked, and I'm in a bit of a ranting mood. Enjoy my true 'diatribe'!

Early in March, I had the opportunity to attend the Hamilton Civic League's Speaker series as a guest panellist. The topic was transportation, or more correctly: mass transit. Other guest panellists at the table were representatives from cycling, transit, light-rail, and a professor in transportation logistics (who was there representing himself, not the organization he works with). The mandate of the Hamilton Civic League is laudable, and on the surface aims to provide civic engagement in the upcoming Municipal Election in October this year. The Q&A was well prepared and provided in advance, with strict timelines for all panellists to respond.

    As I was there as a representative of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (in my role as Transportation Committee Chair), I tempered my responses to ensure I kept within either current policies or policies in the making. And, like most transportation-themed 'public' forums, the attendees are primarily residents who concerned on the environmental impact of the over-reliance of cars or residents who live primarily in the core. Sadly, individuals poorly represented at 'public' forums are those who actually create the economy that is Hamilton (aka – business/manufacturing senior executives). While there may be a couple of small business owners, it's unusual to see representation from medium-to-large sized companies. When Metrolinx was doing their 'dog & pony' show a couple of years back, you'd typically see less than 5% representation from the goods movement industry in attendance. As a result of this poor showing, policies and recommendations were introduced based solely on those who attended the 'open house'.

    In my previous blog I spoke of the important linkage between goods movement and jobs. This misalignment of 'public forums' tend to cloud the true intention of a well-executed transportation grid system. To illustrate the misinformation of goods movement: at one point during the Civic League meeting, the guest panellist representing the economic importance of LRT actually downgraded the recent announcement of Canada Bread's new factory location in the Glanbrook Business Park; noting that the jobs created were 'low paying' and minimalistic. He further commented that the introduction of LRT in the lower City would go a long way towards higher-paying jobs. I can only assume that his vision of LRT stations will be void of restaurants, theatres, and other retail-focused shops, as these locations generally pay minimum wage!

    Over the next couple of months, the City of Hamilton staff and Council will make certain decisions on the preferred Truck Route for Hamilton's road network. Once again, and due primarily to the lack of feedback from the industry which actually uses the roads, steps are being proposed to restrict truck movement on roads specifically designed for such use. (Perhaps because I look at things quite differently, I do have to wonder aloud as to why the Traffic Division of the City didn't wander across the hall to the Economic Development Department to engage the industry's most affected by road designation changes. I can't turn back the clocks, so no sense commiserating the issue.) Instead, it's time for a 'call to action' from those who rely on a properly designated Truck Route to 'belly up to the bar'. Any Council meeting open for public delegation is the perfect forum to state the concerns at hand. In the midst of our yearning for environmental choices coupled in the name of a more active lifestyle, we overlook the role that goods movement plays in our livelihood.

    Advocates of 'buy local' are correct in applying this methodology to locally produced goods; but, even those goods rely on a sound trucking corridor to get the goods from the location of origin to the location of destination…there are not that many cash registers in the cauliflower fields in the Flamborough region. I can only assume that true zealots of the 'buy local' practice won't be reading this…because any electronic device most certainly required the use of marine/air/rail/truck transport…a verboten practice for the true followers of 'buy local'. As with any 'new' practice in today's economy, we tend to swing too far away from the 'bad' way with intentions of finding the 'right' way, without considering the circumstances of our decisions in future years.

    Hamilton is a community diverse in nature and layout; we have a 'downtown' in 5 of the 6 former communities; we have unique suburban communities; and, 65% of our land mass is comprised of rural area. We need to exercise caution, but not get weighed under by the studies and reviews. Using the 'master plan' to guide our actions, we can continue to stay the course in providing a welcoming place for Hamiltonians to live, play …. And work.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Old Age Pensions: A Bottomless Pit?

Most of us don't really pay attention to pensions until we reach a certain age when we start looking at what we're going to do with our time after retirement (or a version thereof). Generally speaking, pensions are earned over the course of time working in Canada…and according to the current version of the Old Age Security Act…that time must be a minimum of 10 years before one can claim the pension once they reach the age of 65.

Say hello to Bill C-428, an Act to amend the Old Age Security Act aimed at reducing the wait time from 10 years to 3 years. The reason? "Whereas the current ten-year residency requirement places undue hardship on recent immigrants who are seniors in that they are unable to adequately access old age security benefits;" (taken from the pre-amble of Bill C-428) Essentially, this Act will enable those seniors who had the opportunity to earn an income in another country to now immigrate to Canada at the age of 62 versus 55 before claiming old age pension.

Excluding special circumstances, this new Act will essentially open a Pandora's Box of financial strain on the public coffers who contribute to the Pension Fund. We know that the reliance on immigrants is becoming more so, as Canada's birthrate is lagging it's death rate…putting the Country at risk of a dwindling population. The influx of well-educated immigrants has helped Canada continue its dominance in the Global marketplace. The gap in the proposed change to the Old Age Security Act is that it is specifically targeting immigrants who are seniors, thereby encouraging those in their senior years to immigrate to Canada for the sole purpose of receiving a pension without having to contribute.

For quite some time, Canadians (and the US for that matter), have grappled with innovative solutions to minimize the impending impact of the tsunami of Baby Boomers entering their retirement years. An article published in 2006 by Pierre Fortin, a professor of economics and associate of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, touched on some of these very real impacts based on the current economy in 2006. Since then we've hit quite the economical speed bump in 2008, which by all accounts should have encouraged policy makers to re-think future decisions…but I don't think the message has reached everyone. The message then was that "…in 2020 (baby boomers) will be 60 to 75 years old. Most of them will have begun their retirement. Just as they entered the job market en masse…they will leave it in large numbers between now and 2025…The consequence is obvious: Our governments will be cash-strapped!"

Instead of commencing with actions which would manage our own self-created strain on the pension fund, the Government is choosing to open up the wallet further to ease user access. When Bill C-428 was introduced into the House of Commons for its first reading on June 18th, 2009 it passed with little fan-fare. Due to the prorogation of Parliament, the Bill "…is deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation…" Now the Bill is getting some attention from those most affected by the risks of exposure of more pensioners drawing from the fund than what was originally thought.

The time is ripe for social media activism to weigh-in on the proposed Act. If you've got a bit of time to review the issue, and feel it's unfair or requires some tweaking, don't delay and act today.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Talking About Today’s Most Popular 4-Letter Word: Jobs

As Hamilton moves toward enhancing employment land developments, I offer my thoughts on what drives the economy and the impacts of a well-balanced transportation inter-modal connectivity.

Creating jobs has become the new mantra for politicians, communities, and pretty much anyone who has recognized the cause and effect of consumerism. While some look to develop 'green' jobs, others look to resurrect existing manufacturing sectors, and others look to inspire policy changes to inspire others to become visionaries in job creation.

Whether driven by economics or environmental awareness, creating jobs no longer comes at the expense of convenience or long-term impacts on community development. Here in Hamilton, while we'd like to see the steel mills up and running to their glory days of the early 70s, we recognize that that comes at a cost to our environment and healthy lifestyle…so we temper that wish accordingly. To give credit where credit is due, companies have made significant strides towards providing more environmentally responsible ways to manufacture their products.

Completing the picture towards job prosperity is a well-planned transportation network which optimizes the multi-modal sectors accordingly. For the most part, goods movement is viewed as the 'enemy' of the environment, yet without a goods movement strategy any progress towards job creation is stymied at the onset. Canada Bread recently announced plans to build a new facility in Hamilton, mainly due to the road logistics in place…the ease of access; which leads to cost controls, and minimizing impacts on the environment. Building (or restoring) manufacturing facilities isn't as easy as it once was…ensuring a maximum utilization of the transportation corridor is paramount to the success of the facility.

The introduction of 'clusters' helped manufacturers keep various stages of production within a small area to minimize transportation costs. From these 'clusters', the development of multi-modal 'hubs' became the next logical step in controlling and managing existing methods of goods movement. The best example of this would be the creation of Nine Dragons in China. This multi-faceted facility incorporates a shipping port as part of the warehousing and production facility. In Canada, we have similar multi-modal facilities primarily incorporating the collaboration of rail & road, or road & air, or marine & rail…very rarely would you see a 4-pronged multi-modal regional facility. In either mixed use, one thing is perfectly clear…jobs are the main benefit of these facilities which capitalize on their collaboration to move goods from one destination to another.

Today, Hamilton is poised to expand its current 'gateway' through the incorporation of employment land development, and inter-modal hub facilities connecting roads, rail, marine, and air. In horse-racing vernacular this would be a trifecta worth betting on. Hamilton currently holds one of the larger great lake Ports; an international airport; a national rail linkage capability; and a successful road network poised for further enhancement to connections to the US border and the GTA. From a Regional perspective, Hamilton holds the future success of south-western Ontario's prosperity through expanded multi-modal employment land development.

Understanding the complexities of urban development and environmental protectionism, mass transit must be integrated into the advance of inter-modal development. Availing land for utilization of inter-connectivity of the various modes of transportation is also reliant on the land itself to be 'shovel-ready'…in other words: ensure the lands surrounding the transportation network are feasible for development. Currently Hamilton has an "Airport Employment Growth District" (AEGD) plan on the table, however further enhancement of the plan is required to allow for complete development of the area identified in the AEGD. A common misconception is that businesses who are looking to develop facilities within the Hamilton region can simply utilize existing vacant lands…however one needs to look at why those lands became vacant…it wasn't purely on technological advances…some closures where pinned to lack of transportation connectivity.

At the end of the day, evolving Hamilton's gateway status into a true multi-modal hub will spell true job creation. For as we know it, regardless of the product being manufactured or shipped, a successful utilization of all available modes of transportation will sustain our competitiveness in the global market.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Highway versus the Information Superhighway

In what is the most likely mismatched poll, CNN has postulated an on-line poll asking voters to choose only one of the following innovations that changed the face of America: the Interstate Highway system, television, or the Internet.

At the time of this writing, some 130,000 voters have pegged the Internet as the top innovation…by an astounding 58%. Lagging dead last is the Interstate at 15%. Comments posted about the article illustrate two altering users of social media…environmentalists who pinned the oil volatility and the war in the Middle East on the reliance of automobiles, while techies championed the dawn of renewed accessibility to information worldwide.

While the commentary following the article recognizes that the road network is not just about cars, but also about goods movement and the trucking industry, there is a disheartening gap in recognizing this by putting the virtual network and the need for information above the economy. While there is no discounting the power of the Information Superhighway (aka: the Internet), there is a tremendous amount of gratitude owed to the users of the Highway…after all, without the Highway we wouldn't have our laptops, desktops, modems, and other electronics at our avail to gain all that time sensitive information.

It's rather disappointing to see that Highways are the enemy, and the Internet is the friend. This rather oblique view on what impacted the landscape of today's America is disturbing at best. This continuing failure to recognize the value of goods movement is a slap in the face of progress of real proportions. On-line shopping requires a well-planned road network, and with approximately 75% of goods shipped in trucks (of all sizes…not just the 18-wheelers), operating in a real-time delivery model would be onerous. And while improvements have been made with other modes of transportation (rail, marine & air), work still needs to be completed on multi-modal facilities to maximize the use of the road networks.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Flying HI

    Hamilton…it's a beautiful City. While not all would necessarily agree, others have gone out of their way to promote Hamilton as the place to live, work, and play. We've got our waterfalls; our prestigious waterfronts (yes, there are two of them…one known as Harbour West, and the other along the shore of Lake Ontario); our Port Authority which is the busiest of all the Canadian Great Lakes ports; and, we also have an International Airport nestled neatly in the southwest region of Hamilton's vast landscape. Tucked nicely between all this, are well-planned roads and rail networks allowing for smooth transitional movement of both goods and people.

    Today starts an unsolicited multi-part blog on Hamilton's transportation modes, and the role they play in driving Hamilton's economy. And, what better place to start with Hamilton's International Airport:

    Formally known as the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, it was built in 1940 and has since grown from a Training facility to an active passenger and cargo airport. Owned and operated by Tradeport International since 1996, the Airport has developed into a bit of a namesake among other Canadian Airports. However, there is more to building a successful airport than just landing strips and loading areas for passengers and cargo. All too often, and quite too easily, some view airports as land-hogs providing a service for fuel-starved machines designed for moving people and goods from one destination to another. Taking this simplistic assessment on any airport is too narrow of a focus.

    The buzz-word of the day would be any word that is either prefixed, suffixed, or blended with the word "green". Developing the lands surrounding the airport properly connected through rail and road networks, can actually lead to Hamilton's International Airport to melding into the "green" environment. Failing to respond to this growth opportunity will have dire circumstances on our employment capabilities. Distribution Centres, manufacturing facilities, transloading facilities, as well as proper passenger facilities, all encompass a successful airport facility. A successful airport facility is rich in employment lands. If one was to look east to our friends in Toronto, their success in planning and building employment lands has now been maximized. What this translates into is higher freight costs due to traffic congestion; higher container fees due to over-booked dockings; and in general…a not too environmentally pleasing execution of goods movement. (I won't go deeper on the higher costs to land at Pearson Airport.)

    Today, Hamilton is on the cusp of developing the lands surrounding the Airport into something positive for the growth of Hamilton: employment opportunities and commercial tax revenue…two things in desperate need in this City. With the development of the Airport Employment Growth District, Hamilton is poised to provide a greener, more economically viable, method of transporting freight and people. Leading the charge is Tradeport International Corporation, led by Richard Koroscil (President), a clear case for moving Hamilton's airport past a stale inflow & outflow of people and goods has been demonstrated. To be clear though, developing employment lands surrounding the airport is not the only saviour that Hamilton is looking for…it is one of the many employment land developments needed. Without one, the City can only offer a broken supply of lands, and would be limited on who they could offer said lands to.

    Successful Cities have successful airports. Successful airports have successful intermodal facilities. To be successful, proper optimization of land must be realized. Without a successful airport in Hamilton, we limit our growth of employment opportunities and (more importantly), we put added strain on the environment due to increased reliance on a road network.

    My next instalment will be on the Port of Hamilton, operated by Hamilton Port Authority.


Writer's note: While I am the current Chair of the Chamber's Transportation Committee, this opinion piece is in no way connected to or affiliated with the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. The writings and musings contained therein are merely my own personal observations and notes on the development of Hamilton's transportation infrastructure. Comments are moderated as I would like an opportunity to respond. All comments are posted.