Tag Archives: Southern Ontario

What Could Have Been

19 Sep

Click to enlarge

So many words have been written about where WNY went wrong, mistakes we’ve made, how we’ve been a field town and not a HQ for much of the last century, and how we’ve ceded businesses, people, industry, and ideas to other parts of the country.

We’re trying to reverse that decline now through the growth and promotion of a knowledge-based economy.  Big, subsidized projects like the medical corridor and UB expansion on the one hand, and small business incubators and venture capital networks on the other, are slowly making a very real impact, helping to lurch this region out of a longstanding economic, social, and (hopefully, eventually) political morass.

But rewind some 60 years, and there was a plan in place that, had it been implemented, would have guaranteed that Southern Ontario and Western New York would have been an economic powerhouse.

Navy Island is an uninhabited green blip on the map, sitting in the Niagara River between Grand Island and the Ontario shore.  After World War II, as the United Nations was being formulated and ideas for its headquarters were being considered, Navy Island was a top contender.  Because of its location between – and easy access from – two friendly nations, Navy Island would have been a better symbolic choice for the UN than the East Side of Manhattan, and a less expensive, less congested one, as well.  Turning a small island over to a peacekeeping organization with deep pockets, turning it into an international zone employing and attracting tens of thousands of diplomatic, secretarial, and administrative staff to southern Ontario and western New York would have had a billion-dollar impact today.

The ancillary economic impact from all those well-remunerated people engaging in the local economy is unfathomable today, and would have attracted businesses, schools, investors, people, and money.

Instead, the UN is on the East River, on land bought with a donation from the Rockefellers.  Had the UN been located in WNY, I wonder how much different this region would be, how it would look, how it would have evolved.

Image courtesy of Niagara Falls, ON Library.

Do You Remember Tor-Buff-Chester?

16 Nov

This piece, written by UB student Brendan Ryan appeared in yesterday’s Buffalo News, and it’s absolutely correct.  For some reason, we exclude southern Ontario and Toronto from discussions about our regional future, much to everyone’s mutual detriment.

…why is it that we often fail to even consider our nearness to Toronto among that list? Toronto and Southern Ontario are bursting at the seams and the Buffalo Niagara region is choosing to not take part in this growth.

Where is the political will to harness it and usher it over the border and why is this seemingly not a priority? What are our elected officials doing to foster relationships with leadership on the other side of the border? In an economic environment in which regions compete for the firms and industries that will help them to grow and become more vibrant, it is imperative to capitalize on assets that make a region unique and that can provide an advantage to businesses considering locating there.

Western New York’s direct line to Canada’s financial capital is an asset that no other region in the country can claim, yet it is almost completely ignored. We need to begin by exploring and discussing what we can gain from Southern Ontario and what we have to offer them. Southern Ontario has a diverse economy with industry clusters in aerospace, financial services, information technology, life sciences, tourism, fashion, design and a wealth of other areas. With a little imagination one can envision our region as a center for logistics between Southern Ontario, the Midwest and the East Coast.

This is absolutely obtainable and only one of the possible methods for evolving a symbiotic, cross-border, regional economy.

Part of this is due to cross-border travel hassles and the various rules and regulations surrounding residency and doing business in each respective country.  I’ve written before about the real need for a Schengen-type agreement between the US and Canada, whereby immigration rules were harmonized and there was true freedom of movement of people, goods, and jobs between our two countries.  Unfortunately, we didn’t even have the political will to cobble together a shared border management agreement for the Peace Bridge, so the likelihood of a North American Schengen is nil.

But the silence from our local political and business communities about better integrating our economy with that of Ontario is unfortunately deafening.