For too many of Hamilton's institutional and political elites, the status quo is lucrative.
By Keanin Loomis
Published March 11, 2010
I recently read in the Hamilton Spectator that something like eight out of the top ten employers in this city are public entities (amazingly, Tim Horton's was not on the list). For any professional navigating Hamilton's job market, that is certainly not a surprising figure.
As I've written before, the job market in Hamilton is not particularly inspiring if you are looking to inspire. Where there is an occasional, blessed opportunity, Hamilton's top "employers" are the types of entities bloated with sclerotic human resource bureaucracies that use computer programs to somehow find the most suitable employee from a vast number of desperate submissions.
From the exposure I've had to these "employers," I envision a scene out of Brazil in which HR robots look for other robots by feeding thousands of resumes like punch-cards into vacuum tubes.
And being public entities, the largest employers in this town are faced with budget cuts well into the future. Top-flight medical and educational systems are all well and good (and in fact necessary), but before regional elites try to take a page out of Pittsburgh's playbook by relying heavily on these two pillars, we must remember that in this country they are completely handcuffed by government appropriators.
Thus, if there ever is an economic recovery in the offing, the concern should be that it would skip over Hamilton.
However, according to the Chamber of Commerce this is the City of Entrepreneurs. So, Hamilton is where you come to create your own job, not apply for one. Fair enough - the type of deregulated environment, progressive municipal policies and bold, inspirational thinking embraced by local leaders required to stimulate entrepreneurial economic activity are invigorating and sure to generate growth in the creative economy.
Except that this does not describe Hamilton at all.
With time and investigation, I now have a fairly good idea of how this city works. With municipal facilitation, private investment in this city swallows up its greenfields, while projects that are designed to help transform downtown rely primarily on government largesse (such as it is).
Despite elites' constant incantation of "Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh," a tremendously disproportionate amount of energy is devoted to paving paradise while, in the core, parking lots stretch as far as the eye can see and buildings crumble due to neglect with nary an implication to their "investors".
In this city, downtown councillors decry the presence of "hoodlums" walking around Jackson Square while doing nothing to actually develop or champion a transformative downtown strategy; "investors" sit on downtown land for no apparent reason with the tacit approval of our politicians; and speculators look to turn arable land into gold by clinging to outmoded notions of growth and feeding the re-election war chests of career politicians.
Though there are many people devoted to reviving the downtown core, too many politicians, entrenched interests and structural obstacles are standing in the way of progress.
With few exceptions, unless you are bulldozing farm fields to build tracts of subdivisions or using government grants to make a living off of Hamilton's vast poverty industry, you are not going to amass enough resistance to Hamilton's jurassic, tone-deaf and myopic political and institutional elite (even if the Mayor might be the best of the bunch).
When I first discovered that Hamilton has an undeserved image and reputation, I was inspired by the opportunities and potential that exists in this community. The more time I spend in this city, the more I learn that "potential" and "opportunity" exist mainly in the minds of the terrific people that press on with a change agenda despite the obstacles.
In this town, inspiration starts with citizen initiatives and then passes through consultant reports, where it gets watered down by bureaucrats and presented to councillors that are threatened by change.
Will the Creative Catalyst ever emerge as a reality, even if it is a proven method to create a significant, long-term return on investment? Same with LRT. Will the Connaught eventually need to be torn down because it represents a hazard?
After reading the Spec today, because a few wealthy people lack any imagination, what are now the odds that the Pan Am Games will bring any appreciable benefit to the core?
When eight out of the top ten employers in this city rely on government caprice, a bold and inspirational agenda is required of our local leaders to attract private investment to transform and revive Hamilton's downtown, not expand its periphery.
The problem is that too many decision-makers in this city profit from the status quo. Unless their job security is at stake, Hamilton's job market and urban development will continue to rely on the whims (and health) of government entities.