By Bob Richardson
Where I live in Canada, 45 minutes from the Peace Bridge, the population growth in Toronto referenced in a recent Buffalo News article and its effects are evident and sometimes painful. High housing costs, constant traffic and resizing of public infrastructure cause concerns.
Ontario’s Ministry of Finance is projecting the province’s population growth by 2041 to exceed 30% with the vast concentration in the Greater Toronto Area and its surrounding regions. That’s more than 4.3 million additional people.
The growth at the southern end of the GTA is being shaped by cost of living, traffic and infrastructure limitations. As they radiate out from the city’s core, people, particularly the young and entrepreneurial, are forced down the rail lines to less expensive and less congested communities.
The News posed the question: Will it matter to Buffalo? The answer can be debated, but there are some observations that will inform both how Buffalo is positioned to receive the positive influence of the GTA and inform our thinking about regional development and growing our economy.
One of the most significant reasons for the growth of Niagara County, Ont., is the announcement of daily service on Toronto’s commuter rail system, the GO train, which will be fully implemented no later than 2023. The neighborhoods around the last station at the end of previous GoTrain expansions experienced explosive growth. The final stop on the Niagara extension will be at the U.S.-Canadian border at the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls. If there is anywhere “the GTA will seep across the border,” it’s in the North End district in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
It’s easy to foresee a seismic shift in the way tourists come to see the Falls and how they interact with our region. The GO train and its companion, the UP Express train, which connects the system to Pearson International Airport, are already changing the way foreign tourists plan to visit here.
While the recent renegotiation of NAFTA focused on trade of goods, the most important opportunity for expansion of the relationship between the GTA and Western New York is the ability of those who live in WNY to work in high demand professions in Canada – commuting into Toronto from Niagara Falls or, conversely, the great talent watershed of Toronto coming into WNY to fill jobs that need more candidates. Imagine American investment bankers commuting from Niagara Falls to Bay Street (Canada’s Wall Street). Or, Canadian software developers coming to work at a new WNY tech hub. The GO train makes it all possible.
Are these examples guaranteed to happen? No. But with foresight, planning and coordination it can and will happen.
Bob Richardson is managing partner of Buffalo-based Blue Cardinal Capital.