Pioneering Economic Growth and Sustainable Infrastructure
As a vibrant city in Ontario, Canada, the city of Oshawa is strongly rooted in its history as it looks with intention towards an exciting future. Preparing to celebrate its 100th year as a city in 2024, Oshawa is witnessing a remarkable transformation into a thriving hub of education, health sciences, and innovative economic development.
From Automotive to Today
For decades, the city of Oshawa was known as the automotive capital of Canada, as Mayor Dan Carter recounts, “If you go back about 100 years ago, we were very much known as an industrial community, with a lot of different industries that were part of the automobile industry and other associated businesses.” The city can trace its automotive roots back as far as Robert McLaughlin, the founder of McLaughlin Carriage Company which would later become General Motors of Canada; maintaining a presence in Oshawa today. “Over the 100 years, we’ve seen our community change dramatically,” acknowledges Carter. He shares that until the 1980’s, close to 35,000 workers were employed on the city’s auto assembly lines, a number which has decreased to only 3000, with an additional 12,000 workers employed in associated industries. “We’ve gone through a real transformation over that 100 years, and we continue to be able to see the diversity of our community, not only in population, but also in our economy. We’ve got a really wonderful history, but we’ve got such a promising future as we look forward,” he portrays.
A Diverse Post Secondary Landscape
A key factor in Oshawa’s transformation has been its commitment to post-secondary education. The city is home to several post secondary education providers, including Durham College, a rapidly growing institution which has been part of the community since 1967. The establishment of Ontario Tech University 20 years ago has been a significant milestone for Oshawa, evolving into a prominent research university with a global perspective, boasting a student body representing approximately 142 different nations. Additionally, Oshawa’s partnership with Trent University Durham GTA, has yielded tremendous growth in the city. The local campus of Trent University in Oshawa has become one of the fastest growing in terms of enrollment, with recent additions like a graduate program that welcomed 800 international students for graduate studies. “We’re blessed because we have nearly 3,000 students that are part of post secondary community,” conveys Mayor Carter.
In recent years, Oshawa’s post-secondary education institutions have partnered with a wide range of industries, reshaping the city’s workforce landscape. While the automotive sector has long been a cornerstone, there’s a notable pivot towards the healthcare industry. Mayor Carter highlights Lakeridge Health’s presence in the region, influencing the curriculum at Durham College to meet the rising needs of healthcare professions, particularly in nursing and related fields.
Oshawa’s universities have also forged impactful partnerships, such as Ontario Tech University’s collaboration with Ontario Power Generation (OPG). Carter relays, “Because of Ontario Tech University and that relationship, Ontario Power Generation are now situating over 2000 employees, and opening up their head office, right here in the great city of Oshawa. We will be a support system for the small modular nuclear program and hydrogen development.” Similarly, Trent University’s logistics program leverages the city’s ideal geographic location. “We are seeing more and more international companies wanting to move to the great city of Oshawa so that they can have a logistics hub and distribution area with office and transportation needs,” remarks Carter. “We also have a logistics program at Trent University that is training well educated and state of the art technologies that help with logistics and moving it into the future. So, you look at that kind of post secondary education, you look at industry where it’s going, and you can see how our economy continues to grow.”
Employment and Economic Prosperity
One of Oshawa’s noteworthy achievements is maintaining strong and diverse employment. Affordable living costs and numerous industries actively seeking local talent, make Oshawa a city of opportunities. “We have a diverse community, and that diversity is happening not only in regards to our economy, but also in our population,” says Carter. “We are one of the fastest growing populations in all of Canada, and our community only really covers about 150 square kilometers. So, we’re in a really wonderful time, not only looking back at the 100 years of where we came from, but looking forward at what role we will play in Canada’s economy and our local economy.”
The city is dedicated to reducing bureaucracy and adopting a more customer service-oriented approach. The mayor, along with the newly appointed Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Tracy Adams, share this philosophy, and are collaborating to shift the city towards a more service focused perspective. “People expect more out of government today than they ever have, and outstanding customer service will be an important part of it,” Carter depicts. “I’m convinced that as a local government, this is what we need to do. We’re competing across the world, for companies to come here. They’re looking at safe communities that their employees can live in, with good transportation, good opportunities for their family, strong education, good health care, and the opportunity to be able to have an affordable community. I believe that we have positioned ourselves well in that way. What we need to continue to do is commit ourselves to the customer service component.”
Diversity and Cultural Enrichment
The diversity of Oshawa’s population is one of its most significant strengths. The city welcomes residents from around the world, creating a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and traditions. “We get people from around the world that are educated differently, that see things differently, that come from different cultures, different food, different dance, different faiths. That mosaic comes into our community, and we’re the direct benefactors of that,” maintains Carter. Fiesta Week, an annual cultural festival showcasing food, dance, and traditions from around the world, is a much anticipated event in the city and is a reflection of the city’s commitment to inclusivity and cultural exchange.
The Ukrainian community in Oshawa offers another example of how diverse groups contribute to the city’s cultural fabric, as Carter describes, “We’re seeing many families that are leaving Ukraine to be able to resettle in Canada. Many of them are coming to Oshawa because we have such a strong Ukrainian community. That is really reminding all of us how lucky we are, how blessed we are, and that we have the opportunity to care and be able to support individuals in the most vulnerable time in their lives.” He mentions a monthly Mayors Cleanup event, sharing that a large group of newly arrived Ukrainians were there to help clean up the city, emphasizing, “They want to bring their spirit to our community.”
Infrastructure Investments for a Thriving City
The city is investing heavily in infrastructure upgrades, with funds going towards roads, bridges, public transportation, water and sewer projects, and green spaces. “We have 100 year old infrastructure, so we are concentrating about $50million a year in regards to infrastructure spending, not only on new projects, but on existing. Like many communities across Canada, we have an infrastructure deficit of about $900 million. So, we understand that we’ve got to continue to invest in our infrastructure,” Carter admits.
On the development side, a notable project is a new community center, planned for the northwest part of the city, featuring a dedicated indigenous space. Additionally, the city is welcoming one of the largest business parks in the region, Northwood Business Park, which is expected to accommodate around 7,000 new jobs when fully developed. Major corporations like Broccolini and Panattoni Development Company are investing in this area, presenting exciting opportunities. As the city plans for an expected 50,000 new residents over the next 15 years, Carter emphasizes, “The great thing about population growth, the great thing about being an economic success also means that we are going to have to spend a lot of money on infrastructure, not only on new but also on existing, to keep our city moving forward. We have to be on the leading edge, not on the falling edge, if we’re going to continue to have this kind of success.”
Looking Ahead: A City on the Rise
As Oshawa approaches its 100th anniversary, it stands to experience continued transformation. With this in mind, Carter highlights a bright future that includes rapid population growth, and a significant role in healthcare, leading research institutions, and excellence in government services. As a final thought, the mayor offers, “When you see the type of discussions and discoveries that are happening, and the bright minds that are bringing these ideas forward, we are really putting our city in a good position. In those areas, I think we’re going to lead in Canada.”
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AT A GLANCE
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
What: A thriving city 45 minutes east of the city of Toronto
Where: Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario
Oshawa Public Utilities (OPUC) – www.oshawapower.ca
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