September 10, 2004
On cruise control
Construction in Kitchener remains stable
Stable, steady, consistent.
That’s how Hugh Howie, executive director of the Grand Valley Construction Association, describes the construction industry in Kitchener and surrounding area.
“We don’t see much in the way of highs and lows,” he says. “Sure we do have our ups and downs but it never goes to the extreme it does in other parts of the province. We’ve seen stable, steady growth. It’s been stable for the construction industry this year.” The reason?
According to Howie, it has a lot to do with location and the diverse economy of the area.
Just off Highway 401, about an hour’s drive from Toronto, Kitchener is centrally located and construction workers can easily get to projects in a number of cities.
In fact, a bulletin board in the GVCA office in Cambridge shows its members presently have projects from Brampton, Guelph and Milton to Oakville, Dunville and Brantford.
“It’s really beneficial because a lot of projects are in an hour’s proximity,” says Howie. “We can be anywhere in an hour.”
The location also helps attract construction work into the area.
“In the last few years there’s been an influx of distribution warehouses, in part because of our central location,” says Howie.
The diverse economy is another trump card for Kitchener and area.
The city has a varied economy and, alongside a strong manufacturing base, it has universities, hospitals and a robust high-technology sector.
“We probably have more universities than other places and we’re not ruled by one big plant starting up,” says Howie. “Kitchener and the region have never been stuck with one industry. We’ve never been a one-industry town and this has led to stability.
“We have a little bit of everything. To me that’s the key. We have a balanced economy.”
The universities have especially helped because they’re always coming out with big projects, says Howie.
Recently, a proposed University of Waterloo Health Sciences Campus moved a step closer to reality for downtown Kitchener.
The campus—a collaborative project between the university and the city—will be anchored by a School of Pharmacy and include a Family Medicine Teaching Centre that will combine clinical care with teaching and research in family medicine.
Meanwhile, Wilfrid Laurier University is relocating its faculty of social work from the Waterloo campus to St. Jerome’s High School in downtown Kitchener by September of 2006. The building will require just over $5 million in renovations.
The city’s location and diversity have also reaped other dividends for the city, namely a well-stocked, stable skilled trades workforce, according to Howie.
“Because our construction doesn’t go through the peaks and valleys to much extent people don’t pick up and go. One of the things we’ve got here is that it’s a nice place to live and we still have relatively affordable housing. Our wages are also much the same as in Toronto.”
As a result, Howie says, labour shortages are few and far between in Kitchener.
“The odd time there’s some big project that will temporarily clear out the union halls, but for the most part we’re okay.’
Howie, who took over the top job at the GVCA about a year and a half ago, says one of the challenges for construction in the Kitchener area—with companies like ATS and Research in Motion—is to stay on top of technology.
To that end, the GVCA is involved in a number of programs and activities aimed at educating members.
The GVCA has a representative on the advisory committee of the architectural construction engineering technology program at Conestoga College and is also a member of both the Canadian Construction Association and the Council of Ontario Construction Associations.
The GVCA now has 540 members, making it the third largest construction association behind Toronto and Hamilton-Halton.
The association was formed in 1974 when exchanges in Kitchener and Guelph joined forces. Originally, there were 250 members.
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