Hamilton ‘struggling’ to attract newcomers: report

City scores high in terms of health, but sees overall ranking drop in Conference Board of Canada report on the attractiveness of the city to migrants

Report scores city's attractiveness to migrants

A new report by the Conference Board of Canada says Hamilton is 'struggling' when it comes to attracting newcomers. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Hamilton earned a “D” grade and ranked low on a list of the most attractive Canadian cities for newcomers.

The Conference Board of Canada released the 2014 version of its City Magnets report on Thursday, which factors in 43 different categories including heath, education, economy and housing. Overall, Hamilton finished 42nd out of 50 Canadian cities, both large and small, in terms of attractiveness to newcomers. In the same report in 2010, Hamilton had a "C" rating.

Overall, Hamilton did well in terms of health — it was one of just three large cities to earn a “B” grade and finished 12th overall — but did poorly in a number of other categories. That’s bad news for the city’s future, the study’s authors warned.

“Cities that fail to attract new people will struggle to stay prosperous and vibrant," said Alan Arcand, of the board’s Centre for Municipal Studies in a news release.

In other categories, Hamilton finished:

  • 44th in economy. Grade: C.
  • 37th in environment. Grade: B.
  • 26th in education. Grade: C.
  • 36th in housing. Grade: C.
  • 43rd in innovation. Grade: D.

“Without question, the ‘D’ cities are struggling,” the report reads, pointing out they’re unattractive destinations for migrants with or without university degrees.

Hamilton is one of 10 Ontario cities in this category, but along with Brampton it’s one of the largest. Smaller cities nearby, including St. Catharines, Brantford and Cambridge, also earned “D” grades. 

Rouxanne Irving, who moved from Jamaica to Hamilton to study at Mohawk College where she now works as a support officer in the international student services department, said the “D” rating is rough, but fair.

Through her work with Global Hamilton Connect, which aims to bring international students to the city, she has unique insight as to what newcomers are looking for.

What do they want to know? “What can I get,” Irving said

In response, she tells them there are opportunities in Hamilton, and Canada as a whole, but warns them “it’s not going to be easy.”

Irving said many students who graduated alongside her can’t find work in the city, while others are working jobs they’re overqualified for.

“We can encourage people to come to Hamilton, but if they can’t get what they want, they won’t stay here,” she said.

'More innovative' approach needed

“The poor score for Hamilton in so many categories is a matter of serious concern to all residents of Hamilton,” said Khursheed Ahmed, a board member of the South Asian Heritage Association of Hamilton and Region, and retired McMaster University professor.

“The flight of manufacturing base and decline of steel industry has been a major setback that may take generations to recover from. However, on the bright side, there has been considerable growth in health services and arts sector,” he wrote in an email.

Ahmed said if Hamilton wants to lure South Asian immigrants away from Mississauga and Brampton, the city’s leaders will have to “work harder and be more innovative.”

“Without jobs and incentives, it is much harder for them to choose Hamilton as a desirable home,” he said.

Hamilton does have some advantages, however, including cheaper real estate in comparison to nearby cities like Toronto (13th overall in the report), something that persuaded graphic designer Davor Mihalji to move here.

Mihalji admits that to a degree he and his partner “moved blindly,” but the Ward 3 resident said he’s happy to own a home here.

“Obviously the city has its issues, but it’s moving in the right path,” he said.

Mihalji, whose family originally immigrated to Windsor, Ont. (45th overall), still commutes to Toronto for work.