Hamilton Chamber leader speaks about economic priorities

Hamilton Chamber of Commerce interim president and CEO Richard Koroscil talks about five priorities outlined at the 2012 Economic Summit.

Members and delegates at the 2012 Hamilton Economic Summit voted on a list of five priorities they wanted the local Chamber of Commerce to focus on over the course of the year.  On Thursday, those same community and business leaders gather again at this year's Summit.

Richard Koroscil, interim president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber, discussed the progress made in the five priority areas -education, creative industries, advanced manufacturing, transportation and health sciences — and how the community is helping the Chamber along. 

Priority #1: Education

The idea there was that we need to have business and the educational institutions more integrated and working collaboratively in terms of helping advance concepts of innovation in our community. Universities and colleges help drive some of that along with building skill sets in the community for the other sectors that we're going to grow forward.

Koroscil said we need to keep talent from local institutions like McMaster University in Hamilton. (Terry Ama/CBC)

We've had some things already taking place with HIVE [young professionals group], which is really driving bringing in and retaining young professionals and talent to our community. One of the things we identified in the very first Summit was we had too many of our students leaving Hamilton after they finished university or college, so we were missing out on the opportunity of keeping these people in the community.

HIVE is now developed a mentorship website. Now you've got more established leaders in the community working as mentors for young entrepreneurs and professionals, something we didn't have before.

Both Mohawk and McMaster are representative on the HIVE board and are working on opportunities... There is also good work happening between Mohawk and McMaster, where you can finish a program at [Mohawk] and move on to McMaster to get a degree.

Priority #2: Creative Industries

The intent is how can we attract more companies, including digital media, to Hamilton. We've created a sub-committee within our Innovation and Technology committee to work on cultural sectors, so we brought business, government and the culture sector together, so that is the first time that has happened.

We're starting to see initiatives like the Live Music Initiative, so it brings in all of the players to enhance visibility of Hamilton's music scene. In fact, the province announced funding specifically to help drive live music, so that will be a piece that this group will tap into. We're talking about the creative of a live music office at the city of Hamilton to establish Hamilton as a leader at musical festivals.

We've had great success from people relocating from places like Toronto because they like the Hamilton environment. The cost of living is better. We're building a community of the creative culture within the community.

It goes back to the question of a livable city. The arts plays a big role in the people's satisfaction of where they live. And from the business perspective, innovation is a creative process so, building that skill set within the community actually helps business become more innovative. And it's not just business... we have a huge health care sector here and there is an opportunity to bring some of those creative skill sets to other organizations.

Priority #3: Advanced Manufacturing

It's all about advanced manufacturing now. How do we do things different and better? A lot of the traditional manufacturing has gone overseas. So how can Canada, and Hamilton in particular, drive innovation and do better? How do we grow on the base we already have?

We've established an advanced manufacturing sub-committee within the Chamber bring in all the players. There is the creation of LiFT at Innovation Factory, an initiative that helps small and medium enterprises (SME) strategize about the future. So, as SME, how do I strategize for the future? Or think about going international?

The city is also undertaking some studies, as is the province, so there are 2 separate studies underway right now looking at advanced manufacturing in Hamilton, the concept and principles. What our strengths, weaknesses and challenges are. Once you have that, it's easier to advance on that file.

Priority #4: Transportation

Transport is one of the drivers of economic activity, because when a company is looking to go somewhere one of the top three drivers is always transportation. Can they get their products in and out, can they get their people in and out? We look at it as an economic enabler.

The Chamber continues to drive on 2-way all-day GO service and LRT, but also goods movement. The province, in the fall last year, put forward a goods movement strategy for the very first time. For Hamilton, that's a big deal. We are a gateway because of the transportation assets. We've got air, rail, marine and road right here. So how do we build on those strengths.

So the Chamber is doing quite a bit of work. Our view on Metrolinx's funding tools and supporting the principle that something has to be done. We're losing $6 billion in productivity and we need to fix it. There is a recognition that we need to spend some money on it or else it's not going to happen.

Priority #5: Health Sciences

Hamilton is again in a unique spot. [Healthcare] is of the wonderful assets that we have.

We brought together all the healthcare providers and industry for a healthcare forum to start looking at what we can do and what are the best practices around the world. And quite frankly, we have to do something in Ontario because funding isn't sustainable anymore. We have to do business differently. 

So this goes back to the innovation piece. How do we drive innovation in the healthcare sector? Can the private sector play a role? The private sector could be delivering public services. We're not talking about privatization, but how the private sector can play a role. The private sector can be more entrepreneurial, innovative and nimble.

We've been working with the Ontario Chamber on the Alternative Service Delivery paper. It means what other ways can we deliver public services and start to deal with some of the constraints we have on funding. Here's how I liken it: can we create a centre of excellence in healthcare that the private sector can really drive innovation that we can not only help our own health care system in Ontario, but globally. We could be creating a whole new industry right here in Hamilton.


Koroscil said the members at Thursday's summit won't come up with new priorities for 2013, but the Chamber will keep working on these five.

"My belief is if we can move these along, what a big difference that would make," he said. "Just think about if we just got one of them in a big way, what that would do."

The interview has been condensed and edited.