Saturday, March 07, 2009

Hamilton Diaspora

In Canada's Rust Belt, 1982 has finally arrived. The steel industry in Hamilton, Ontario is collapsing and the city is trying to learn what it can from the Pittsburgh experience:

When the American steel industry started going belly up in the early '80s, Pittsburgh tried to find ways to reuse the mills with no success.

"When that didn't work out, what transpired was the actual demolition of the steel sites," said David Thomas, manager of Pittsburgh's Economic and Industrial Development Corp.

Instead, Pittsburgh reinvented itself on the backs of its universities and the highly-regarded University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

In fact, UPMC alone employs nearly 26,000 people - about the same number as U.S. Steel once did in the city.

"It's a long, arduous process," said Thomas. "It's a very traumatic experience you're about to go through when thousands of people and their families are affected by layoffs."

In Pittsburgh's case, he added, "it took a lot of retraining, it took a lot of turnover, a lot of people left.

"When they talk about Steeler nation - all those Steeler fans across the country - a lot of those people are displaced Pittsburghers who moved to Carolina, Florida, the west," Thomas said.

Globalized Toronto appears unable to stem the exodus of labor from Ontario. Despite the energy boom going bust, people are still relocating to Prairie Provinces such as Saskatchewan. Blue collar workers don't have much of choice and head west in search of jobs, further eroding the country's traditional power-base in Upper Canada.

Ironically, geographic mobility appears to be stronger in Canada than it is in the United States. The demographic shifts resulting from the depression promise to be more profound. There is already considerable anxiety about Ontario-based talent (e.g. academics) heading to the United States. The immediate future in Toronto is cloudy and I'm not so sure Richard Florida is right about that global city's resiliency.


astroblaster said...

Greetings from Hamilton.

There are many progressive and creative people here. Hopefully we can learn from Pittsburgh's success and turn things around up here the way you have.

Jim Russell said...


Learning is a two-way street. What is working in Hamilton?

astroblaster said...

We are transitioning to other industries, like health-care. (similar situation in Pittsburgh right?)

Also, our creative class has really been booming lately.

Our downtown still needs lots of love...