Niagara Falls, Ontario
Two marvelous cities in one
Business View Magazine interviews Jim Diodati, Mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, for our focus on Economic Development in Canadian Cities.
Imagine living in a small, friendly city of around 90,000, enjoying going about your daily business as part of a close-knit community… one where 14 million people come to visit and say “hello” every year! Welcome to Niagara Falls, Ontario – home to a pretty big water feature and an even bigger heart.
Located in North America’s most affluent consumer market, Niagara Falls is a globally-recognized city with a prosperous business community anchored by tourism, manufacturing, commercial retail, and knowledge-based sectors. Extensive road, rail, water, air, and telecommunications networks make the city easily accessible as a destination for both work and pleasure.
With the U.S./Canada border closed now for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Niagara Falls, Ontario has seen its visitor traffic and revenue do a deep dive. But the city has pivoted to embrace its ‘non-Falls attributes’ and is experiencing strong economic and population growth in the process. Business View recently spoke with long-term Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, who shared his candid insights into the challenges and successes taking place in the city he loves. The following are edited highlights of our conversation.
BVM: How is the city faring as a destination during the pandemic?
Mayor Diodati: “Niagara Falls is a unique place. We say we’re the biggest small city in Canada; less than 100,000 people but when you factor in the 14 million visitors, it gives us a weird mix and unusual things happen. We knew we were at risk because of the massive amount of people that come to Niagara Falls. There were predictions of “Florida north” but none of it happened. Even the critics were saying we were just lucky – but seriously, lucky for three months? I don’t think so, I’m not that lucky.
“Collectively as a destination, we worked hard, did a good job, and kept our numbers as low as any other city that doesn’t get tourists. There was a lot of proactive planning by good, dedicated people. Of course, we were worried… in Niagara Falls, we have 40,000 people counting on tourism to put food on the table. Failure was not an option. And closing down the destination was not an option either. We had to open up safely. And we’re proud of the outcome.”
BVM: With the Canada/U.S. border closed has regional visitor traffic increased?
Mayor Diodati: “Definitely. Labour Day weekend was as busy this year as any other year. Typically, 25 percent of our guests come from the U.S. So, we were happy with the numbers because a lot of Canadians that would normally cross the border stayed here. The other thing that stings about the border piece is although the U.S. represents 25 percent of our guests, they represent 50 percent of the revenue. So it’s a significant piece of the cash flow that didn’t happen. We definitely miss the Americans but we cushioned the blow with Canadians visiting their own destination.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a great summer; it will definitely be marked with an asterisk. A lot of people were hurt and are still hurting and some businesses never made it. But it could have been much worse, given the fact that we got hit from both sides. The fact that tourism was shuttered for a great deal of the summer, and people are discouraged from visiting – certainly in big numbers, which we are known for – that definitely didn’t play to our strengths. But overall it worked out well.”
BVM: Thinking beyond tourism, what other projects are on the go?
Mayor Diodati: “The Niagara South Hospital project is moving forward nicely. It is still in the planning stages, and we’re anticipating ground breaking in 2021/22 (subject to the Province of Ontario). Then it will be a few years for the build. Of course, COVID has thrown schedules sideways but we have not slowed down on the planning aspect and the zoning and all the infrastructure the city has to do. We’re working closely with the Niagara Health System and the Ministry of Health to make this happen. With a price tag upwards of $1 billion, it will be a state-of-the-art, machine learning hospital that will have the benefit of being designed after SARS and COVID, so they will have learned a lot about ventilation systems, etc. And it’s long overdue, our current hospital is antiquated. The new complex will serve Niagara South and be built on 50 acres – 30 of which were donated by a local family and 20 acres that were purchased by the city. The entire acreage has been assembled and transferred to the Niagara Health System, so we’re really excited to move that ball forward.
“Also, we’ve committed and are in the midst of commencing $4 million of investment in upgrading our GO Train station, which will include the station building, the platforms, the parking, streetscape improvements, some underground and roadway upgrades. We’re the terminus for the GO Train – it starts and ends here in Niagara Falls – and the AMTRAK comes into our station from Niagara Falls, New York. And there is discussion of high-speed rail connecting Toronto and New York – the beauty is it goes right through our city. Knowing that the GO Train expansion will happen, we’ve outpaced all the predictions and we meet regularly with Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx. He is very supportive of expanding to Niagara Falls. That’s going to be a very important aspect of our infrastructure and it will become more important with environmental concerns and congestion on the highways.”
BVM: Why are people migrating to Niagara Falls from larger centers?
Mayor Diodati: “Our population has been exploding. People are seeing Niagara Falls as a great place to live because their dollar goes much further here than in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Toronto is the fastest growing urban center in North America and as their growth continues, so will ours. Our quality of life is outstanding, with 130 wineries, 35 golf courses, great restaurants and attractions, cross-border shopping – and now we’re going to be connected with the GO Train, and you can also take a 12 minute flight with GT Air and be in downtown Toronto. With COVID, and the advent of working remotely, a lot of people have decided to move to Niagara and work from home here.
“We’ve got a great school system, a very low crime rate, and Niagara Falls was just recently ranked one of the top 10 cities in the world to live. People realize it’s a good place to raise a family or retire, and as a result there’s been a major boom in house construction and new residents moving to the area. We’ve become much more multi-cultural as well, with a lot of different demographics coming into town.”
BVM: Is your business sector growing as well?
Mayor Diodati: “We’ve been selling at a record pace and struggling to keep up with demand in our industrial parks. In fact, we’ve had to put sunset clauses in all land purchases down there that if they don’t build and develop within a certain period of time, we buy the land back at the same price. We don’t want to tie up property for speculators and land banking, we only want people who are serious about building their business to create employment and economic development. And that’s exactly what’s been happening. We’ve been rapidly running out of space and having to expand our industrial parks. And there is no shortage of jobs. It’s a sign of a healthy economy. And we’re really happy with the direction it’s gone.
“With our hospital there are some really interesting high-tech companies in the nanotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors that are looking to move here. We’ve got light manufacturing, as well. Because we sit on the border, that’s a big advantage. Anywhere in the world, when you say Niagara Falls it’s instantly recognized as one of the most well-known cities on the planet. So it’s a benefit to have your corporate brand associated with the City of Niagara Falls. A lot of small to medium-sized companies are locating here and we’re happy with that because smaller companies are more resilient to changes in the economy and more committed to the destination.”
BVM: Is entrepreneurialism alive and well?
BVM: “Yes. We’ve got a great partnership with the Niagara Falls Ryerson Incubation Hub in our downtown. It’s right across the street from the GO Train station and one block from the Niagara River, which is about a three-minute drive to the tourist core. So, you start to realize how important its location is and it will be very significant going forward. This is going to be a great way to incubate ideas and create an entrepreneurial village in our downtown area.
“We’ve had quite a few success stories already and we’re just getting going. Ryerson University is the number one ranked incubator in the world and our direct partnership with them links us with all their other locations around the globe. That, coupled with new and emerging technologies companies in our business park, is creating a whole new list of opportunities for businesses that are willing to pivot with what’s happening in the world today.”
BVM: How would you sum up the best attributes of life in Niagara Falls, Ontario?
Mayor Diodati: “If you haven’t been to Niagara Falls in the last 10 years, you haven’t been to Niagara Falls. Being one of the great tourist attractions of the world, people don’t realize the excellent quality of life in a city that’s so well known. We still have that small town feel, where people will get out of their car to push you if you’re stuck in the snow, and they know you at the local shops. Yet, we have all the big city amenities because of the millions of tourists that come here. Niagara Falls offers a buffet of opportunity with two distinct faces – the tourism powerhouse and the cozy community that people love to call home.”
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AT A GLANCE
Niagara Falls, Ontario
WHAT: A city of 90,000
WHERE: On the Canadian side of the Niagara River
Ryerson University – Ryerson.ca
Niagara Falls Ryerson Innovation Hub
The Niagara Falls Ryerson Innovation Hub (NFRIH) is a business incubator focused on growing digital products and services for local entrepreneurs. Founded by the City of Niagara Falls, Ryerson University, and Spark Niagara, NFRIH has created an educational ecosystem, which fosters entrepreneurial growth.
Located in the heart o f downtown Niagara Falls, NFRIH not only focuses on developing businesses, but also takes pride in setting the stage for individual growth.
Canada’s leading tech incubator-accelerator, the DMZ at Ryerson University, serves as the model and key resource for NFRIH’s programming and services, focusing on community, coaching, customers, and capital. Entrepreneurs in the Niagara Region can now access these proven resources without leaving the p lace they call home.
The four-month NFRIH program provides startups with access to hands-on advice from the DMZ’s experienced industry-leading experts and entrepreneurs-in-residence (EiRs) who have done it all before, and the resources needed to take businesses t o the next level. These Ryerson resources include:
- Connections to international markets
- Ability to leverage the Startup Visa Program
- Access to exclusive workshops and events
- Connections to Ryerson’s research a nd development ecosystem
- Custom program curation based on business needs One-on-one consulting with leading experts
The ultimate focus of the NFRIH is to work with startups to create a structured, scalable and repeatable process for growth and revenue generation.
The NFRIH is currently recruiting its fourth cohort for a start date of Jan. 18, 2021. If you are interested in applying or learning more please visit: https://www.niagarafallsryersonhub.ca/
E.S. Fox Limited – www.esfox.com
Established in 1934 as a small plumbing and heating company, E.S. Fox Limited (ESFL) today is recognized as a pre-eminent Canadian multi-trade Industrial, Commercial, Institutional and Power Generation constructor and fabricator. We work in the industries of oil and gas, petrochemical, mining, pulp and paper, steel, automotive, pharmaceutical, casinos, hotels, hospitals, schools, and themed entertainment.
ESFL is headquartered in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and maintains full-service regional offices in Hamilton, Toronto, Port Robinson, Oshawa, Kincardine, Kingston, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay.
We supply millions of direct-hire person-hours every year, self-performing in the areas of Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Sheet Metal, HVAC, Refrigeration, Millwright and Rigging, and Boilermaking. ESFL is recognized as an industry leader for Industrial Fabrication and Construction by integrating Safety and Quality Assurance practices into everything we do. We honour the four cornerstones of service: Safety, Quality, Schedule, and Cost, in that order. We believe that when you manage the Safety and Quality of your work, you are better able to control your schedule and manage your costs. This successful approach is instilled into all our operations.
With a strong commitment to health, safety, and protecting the environment, ESFL has earned a reputation as a people-first, environmentally conscious, socially responsible constructor.
Mancuso Chemicals Limited – www.mancusochemicals.com
Incorporated in 1986, Mancuso Chemicals Limited is a trusted provider of products and expert technical innovation to foundries, steel & tin mills, and paint manufacturers on four continents and 18 countries around the world. Products including Foundry Resins, Chemicals and Consumables, Tin and Steel Mill Chemicals, Polyester and Alkyd Resins for the Coatings Industries, and Automotive Fluids are supplied from Mancuso headquarters in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where InterAtlas Autofluids also operates as a supplier of DEF, Engine Coolant, and Windshield Washer Fluid.