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U.S. loss is Durham’s gain

Divisive trade policies may be driving investment to Canada, region says

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A combative stance on trade may be hurting the United States, but it could mean bigger things for Canada and the Durham Region.

According to numbers from the region’s economic development team, the second quarter was a hectic one, thanks in part to efforts applied earlier in the year, but perhaps greased along by ongoing trade issues originated in the United States that may be scaring off potential European investors.

“Canada is signing agreements. The U.S. is putting up trade barriers,” says Simon Gill, the manager of business development and investment attraction for the Region. “Generally we are finding a drastic increase in the willingness to invest here.”

He explains that to a number of companies in Western Europe, Canada sits as much more attractive place to invest at the moment.

Gill says the team handled 63 investment leads, 57 of which came directly to the Region or through the Region’s global investment missions.

“It was definitely busy with a number of leads and potential investors,” Gill says.

He credits the increased action to the number of outreach activities undertaken in the previous quarter.

“We were out in the markets, setting up a lot of meetings with companies,” he says. “It was a result of all this outreach that we had so many leads.”

Breaking down those investment leads, nearly half came from the manufacturing sector, while another third were from the life sciences and innovative technology industries.

“The 2017-2021 economic development strategic action plan outlines key priority sectors,” Gill says. “The reason why Q2 was so heavy is we had a number of conferences and events in most of the priority sectors.”

Economic development staff funnels all leads into four different categories.

If a lead is seriously considering Durham, has a business plan in development, and could invest in the next two to five years, it is deemed a “prospect.”

Once a company identifies Durham as its primary choice, has an approved business plan and could invest in less than two years, the designation is bumped up to an “opportunity.”

Companies are considered an “active investor” once they are in the process of investing in the region, is in active talks to purchase/lease property or the zoning application stage, and investment is expected within three months.

The 63 cases in the second quarter have resulted in 17 ‘prospects’, five “opportunities” and one active investor, that being the Canadian government, which is looking for office space.

Economic development staff went on six investment ‘missions’ in the U.S., China and Germany, consisting of 112 meetings resulting in a number of the leads.

Staff has hosted three potential investors and hosted a delegation with Toronto Global, an investment attraction group representing GTA municipalities with funding from the provincial and federal governments.

In this time frame, trade relations between Canada and the U.S. soured, with both countries slapping trade tariffs on a number of goods.

While Gill says this hasn’t necessarily affected the region’s efforts to attract investment, it is concerning.

“As an economic development team, we fully support the federal government in their efforts to reach an amicable solution,” he notes. “We’ve benefited from decades of free trade.”

In the past few years, some politicians, namely those in the federal Conservative party, claim Canada’s competitiveness to attract foreign businesses has weakened.

Factors blamed for this include high hydro rates in Ontario, cap and trade/carbon taxes, and changes to corporate tax rates.

But Gill says he feels Durham Region remains highly attractive, due to its plentiful fleet of high-skilled workers, and affordable land in comparison to the rest of the GTA.

While he admits Durham “falls in the middle of the pack” in terms of available, serviced land, the cheapness of the land is paramount.

“We far, far outperform the pack in terms of affordability,” he says.

Although data from the third quarter won’t be available until the fall, Gill says the momentum has continued.

“We are now focusing on conversion. What the focus really now is quality service, including marketing research and assistance in doing business and finalizing appropriate real estate,” he says.

An updated report for the region’s foreign investment plan should be coming forward early next year.

“It is consistently in development. We are continually reviewing, tweaking and revising,” he says. “There are overall global trends for foreign direct investment and we are in the process of revising our strategies.”