We still make things in Toronto, and our manufacturing sector will continue to “thrive,” Mayor John Tory has told a business audience in North York.
At the Downsview headquarters of Teknion Corporation on Tuesday, Tory said it’s important today’s students “know that manufacturing is not a career from the past.”
In 2014, the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre reported Ontario lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs over the previous decade, cut, the thinktank said, because of globalization, automation, low productivity, and a high Canadian dollar.
Thousands more, once part of the bedrock of Toronto’s middle class, vanished before that.
But Tory, speaking to at least 200 people from the city’s north end, said manufacturing, down to nine per cent of Toronto’s economy, remains a “hugely important” part of it.
Don’t believe what you read about Toronto not being competitive: we make quality products, and we respect the rule of law, the mayor said. “We have a lot of smart people here.”
Global, a tiny Downsview company founded by Saul Feldberg, started making affordable office chairs in 1966. It gave rise in 1983 to the publicly-traded Teknion, now one of the world’s largest office furniture-makers, with 3,800 employees worldwide.
Teknion was “a scrappy Canadian start-up taking on the mega-guys in the industry,” said CEO David Feldberg, Saul’s son, adding it now has Boeing for a client and is “in the final stage” of furnishing the headquarters of a California technology giant.
And yet 70 per cent of Teknion’s components are still made in Greater Toronto, where it has eight facilities.
Tory said the Feldbergs’ success should “shine as an example of what can be done,” and embolden other Toronto businesses, since just 10 per cent or less export anything they make.
He spoke mainly to members of Duke Heights Business Improvement Area, which formed last May to revitalize a vast employment area between Steeles and Sheppard avenues, and from Keele to Dufferin streets.
“I am behind you in what you do,” Tory told them.
Like the Mowat Institute, the mayor believes in helping manufacturing by boosting the city’s “liveability” – something Toronto scores consistently high on in surveys.
The city can also make it easier for people to do business here, said Tory, who added the city protects its employment lands “fairly well,” despite pressure from people who want to use them for other development.
Joe Pantalone, a former councillor and a special advisor to Duke Heights, said the BIA is transforming its portion of the city “into a nice place to be, as well as work,” by installing sidewalks where sidewalks are missing, for instance, by planting trees, and through its overnight security patrols.
Leon Wasser, its sustainability consultant, said companies want more entrances, parking and other improvements at the nearby York University GO Rail Station.
They also want more on and off ramps at North York’s Highway 400 interchanges, to fill in gaps in the local road network, and to make more use of an east-west cycling path crossing the district in a Hydro corridor which, with some lights, snow clearing and signs, said Wasser, “could be the northern equivalent of the Martin Goodman Trail.”
Businesses in Duke Heights are expected to realize some benefits once the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan opens next year, and when the Finch West Light-Rail Transit line, set to begin construction in 2017, is completed between Keele Street and Humber College in Etobicoke.
What’s needed next for the area, said York West Councillor Anthony Perruzza, is to extend the LRT line east to Yonge Street and west to Pearson International Airport.