The City of Oshawa has undergone profound economic evolution over the past decade, but it’s the municipality’s promising future that Kyle Benham has his eye on.
As the city’s new director of economic development services, and just five months into his post, Benham welcomed 130 guests to Oshawa’s 11th annual Realtors and Developers Breakfast Nov. 18 by inviting them to share in spreading the story of the “new Oshawa”, which he said is really at a starting point.
“We are no longer a one-industry town and haven’t been for a while,” he told the audience at the Best Western Hotel’s Durham Banquet Hall and Conference Centre. While the city’s manufacturing sector now represents a stabilized 6,000 jobs -- 10 per cent of the city’s total job market -- the burgeoning growth has been in the health care and education sectors, with a trend to small- and medium-sized companies that are globally connected.
Coming from the west end of the GTA to join the staff at city hall, in researching the community Benham discovered he shared common misconceptions about Durham’s most populated municipality, which boasts a diversified economy, an enviable quality of life and a knowledge-based workforce. Sharing the story of the “new Oshawa” beyond city borders has become one of his earliest missions in his new role.
Over the past decade, the health services sector has grown by 39 per cent to reflect 16 per cent of the city’s total job market, while the education sector has grown by 45 per cent and holds 10 per cent of the job market. Major employers include Lakeridge Health, UOIT, and Durham College.
“We actually have a very balanced economy at this point,” said Benham. “When we start talking about the new Oshawa, it’s a message around a balanced economy…and a wider range of jobs.”
One of the keys to the future is Oshawa’s knowledge-based workforce, he added. “We’re positioned for growth…it’s all about talent. We have more knowledge-based workers in the community than we have jobs for them.”
Talent in the labour force is consistently the number-one factor companies look for, he said in his presentation.
The pool of talent in Oshawa is part of the city’s pitch in attracting new growth and Benham invited business leaders in the audience to make it part of their own marketing efforts, collaborate on investment pitches with the city, share the story of the new Oshawa and tell their own stories through working with his department. A critical piece of the city’s message is that the significant development growth the municipality has realized to date is not at an end point but a starting point.
One of the tools Benham’s department is developing is an interactive map showing the location of new developments in the city, which will offer details and information on projects with the click of a mouse. Recent, current and future developments underway in Oshawa paint a picture of a municipality poised to build on an already impressive track record of success.
In 2015, Oshawa issued building permits with a total value of more than $588 million, the highest year on record. In the first 10 months of this year, total building permits stood at more than $274 million. “It’s been an extraordinary couple of years,” said Benham.
The extension of Hwy. 407 through Durham Region has paved the way for more development in Oshawa. Recent growth includes a $230-million expansion at the Oshawa Centre retail mall, a 12-storey, $50 million mixed-used development at 100 Bond St., and a $33.5 million Software and Informatics Research Centre at UOIT.
But that’s far from all. General Motors expects new hiring with its research and development of electric vehicles and green technology. The Oshawa executive airport is upgrading its facilities and building new hangars, the movie industry is filming in Oshawa, and the downtown core is under revitalization with grant funds available for site improvement and other programs.
Looking to the future, Benham pointed out the Kedron planning area in the northeast part of the municipality is expected to house 22,000 new residents on 466 hectares, with 85 per cent of the land to be built out in the next two or three years. In the next decade, a 20 per cent increase in the population will mean more labour skills in the community and an influx of professional skills, small companies and home-based businesses, he said.
Meanwhile, a second building phase at 100 Bond St. will bring an 18-storey tower with ground floor commercial and upscale apartment units, and a $600 million residential project by Medallion Developments will see apartments and townhouses on the former site of Fittings Ltd. on Bruce Street. A 160-acre regional retail site is proposed near a new Hwy. 407 interchange at Simcoe Street North and Winchester Road, and the future Northwood technology park is being zoned and serviced.
The talent pool will continue to grow. UOIT and Durham College expect enrolment to increase by 18,000 students in the next 15 to 20 years. Durham College is getting ready to break ground on a $35 million Centre for Collaborative Education, which will foster global collaboration and entrepreneurship. UOIT is building a $100-million research centre on its north Oshawa campus. Trent University plans to expand to more than 2,500 students in Oshawa with a new academic building and student residence proposed.
Two new GO Transit stations expected in Oshawa will be a “huge strategic piece of infrastructure” that will open a new corridor for development on the border of Oshawa and Whitby and create more than 20,000 jobs in east Durham, said Benham.
Oshawa director of planning services Warren Munro told the audience the east part of Durham has traditionally been at a disadvantage in terms of development but “the east’s time is now.”
Nancy Shaw, CEO and general manager of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, commented that the city’s advantages include its deep water port, the Oshawa executive airport and two major transportation corridors with highways 401 and 407.
"We’re the only municipality in Durham with all those assets,” she said. “But we need the Pickering airport here.”
Benham said his department is committed to ensuring the City of Oshawa reinforces its strong position in attracting future development and growth. “We’ll make sure we’re competitive in the long term.”
The future of Oshawa is “rosy”, said Denis O’Connell in an interview following the presentation. As president of the Oshawa-based project management company IPM, O’Connell has a long history in Durham Region of bringing dozens of high profile developments to fruition, including the Regent Theatre in Oshawa.
He predicts future condos and a new marina at the Oshawa harbour, and notes the downtown area is improving and real estate values will go up. “The way it was painted at the breakfast is what it is. Things are very positive.”