From John Kime, President & CEO of London Economic Development Corporation
Some recent Free Press articles may have left readers alarmed about the economic health of our city. I am pleased to provide some balance and to reassure Londoners that, while there remains much work to be done and many challenges to overcome, as a community we have also had many successes. Let me tell you some of the good news that doesn’t always make headlines.
Economic growth - Between 1997-99 London employment grew at the average annual rate of 2.7%. That is comparable to cities such as Windsor (2.5%), Hamilton (2.3%), Ottawa (3.1%) and Kitchener (3.2%). While London has lost some jobs, new jobs have been created and overall there has been growth in that period.
Unemployment - In seasonally adjusted unemployment rates this year, London’s numbers have been better than Canada’s each and every month. We have bettered the Ontario numbers in three months out of seven. London’s labour force (people of working age either employed or unemployed) has grown by over 18,000 in the last two years. That means we would have to create that many new jobs just to keep our unemployment levels from growing.
Business Retention and Growth - The transportation and warehousing sector is growing rapidly in London (7.5% growth rate from 1997-1999). While professional and managerial services have not grown as much as they have in other cities, we averaged 5 to 6% between 1998-99.
Manufacturing accounts for approximately 16% of total employment in the London CMA according to the Statistics Canada Census (not 38% as reported in the Free Press). It averaged a healthy average growth rate of 7% per year between 1997-99. That is third only to Ottawa and Windsor and well above the provincial average of 5.1%.
Approximately 20 new information technology/telecommunications companies have located in London in the past 18 months.
London is also home to a huge number of small and medium sized businesses that make a large contribution to job growth. Each year LEDC works actively with many of these organizations as they continue to grow. From small manufacturing to advanced technology, these firms will play an integral role in London’s "new economy".
Do we have to do more? Absolutely. We face stiff competition and will have to give it everything we’ve got to keep the businesses we have and bring more to London.
Will we lose some battles along the way? Some. Each year, the LEDC works with about 200 companies who are in the process of establishing new operations. We’re seeing an increasing level of interest and excitement about London’s potential for investors. When we are not successful in our attraction efforts, we can’t throw up our arms and declare ourselves losers, because the next battle is just around the corner.
If there is one thing I have learned since accepting the job of heading the LEDC, it is that bringing economic prosperity to a city is not the job of one person, or one organization. It requires many leaders and many organizations agreeing to common goals and working together as we examine our successes and failures to learn the lessons for the next round.
Our greatest challenge is to overcome conflict - a propensity that we have in London to attack others or find enemies to blame when challenges arise. Productivity thrives when we create an environment where new ideas, thoughtful analysis and cooperation replace knee-jerk criticism.
At the LEDC we look forward to continued good relationships with our strong partners - the City of London’s Council and administration, our provincial and federal elected representatives, the London Chamber of Commerce, education institutions and of course, the London business community. Each one of these organizations is already working hard to bring economic prosperity to our city.
In the coming months the LEDC will increase its efforts to enlist their advice, support and assistance.
Putting London’s economy into high gear is the goal. That means doing all we can to support existing businesses so that they may expand and grow and it means aggressively pursuing opportunities to bring new businesses to London in all sectors.
I believe in London. I know it remains strong today in spite of economic setbacks. More importantly, I know it holds the promise of a dynamic future.