Eastern Canada

East (Destination)

December 2014

Innovation and creativity spring eternal in Toronto

by Jeff Heilman

  • /Portals/0/images/articles/MFG/2014/1214/Toronto1.jpg

    Street art

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    OCAD University, Toronto

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    Marilyn Towers

As Canadian Business reported last year, Toronto “has become the undisputed capital of Canadian innovation, with more than 600 start-ups, the country’s largest cluster of universities and colleges pumping out research, and the deepest venture capital pockets in the land.”

Ranked eighth in the world by research firm Startup Genome, the Toronto region’s “startup ecosystem” is fertile turf indeed. Among the hotbeds: student-focused incubator and accelerator programs at the University of Toronto, the Canadian Film Centre’s new-media accelerator IdeaBOOST and an extended tech circle that reaches to other Ontario innovation hubs, including Waterloo, Kitchener and Markham, known as “Silicon Valley North."

This ecosystem naturally involves a thriving workforce of creative, ambitious and connected young people in technology, finance, marketing, communications and other fields that like their peers in other entrepreneurial capitals—San Francisco, London, Berlin, Tel Aviv—are putting their own distinctive stamp on the city’s business and cultural landscape.

In Toronto however—where 18-year-old Morgan Baskin is presently running in the mayoral race under her “Because YOUth Matter” banner—the kids appear to be taking things a step or two further.

Building Blocks
In its fall 2014 report on urban development trends in 10 major North American cities, commercial brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield finds Gen Yers directly and dramatically reshaping Toronto. Between 2006 and 2011, population growth in the downtown area soared from 4.6 percent to 16.2 percent—according to the latest census, 19- to 39-year-olds represent nearly half of that population.

Runaway office and condo construction has followed in pursuit of this young demographic, which Toronto Savvy calls “Manhattanizing Millennials.”

Between 2009 and 2011, 4.5 million square feet of new office space was added to the downtown inventory; the next wave will add a projected 5.1 million square feet by 2017. Currently forested in cranes, Toronto is also continuing a 15-year condo construction phase that is projected to add another 46,000-plus high-rise units to the market.

Keep an eye out for Gen Z, too. In September 2014, the Globe & Mail reported on future Toronto stars including 14-year-old jewelry entrepreneur Linda Manziaris, who “gives half of her profit to charity,” and eco-blogger Hannah Alper, 11, who “has addressed stadium-sized crowds across North America.”

The landscape is also changing for meetings—and Tourism Toronto is taking notice. Tara Gordon, the bureau’s vice president of convention sales, shares her keen insight into how the younger generation is impacting group dynamics.

“Millennials live in an ever-connected, technology device-driven world,” Gordon says. “They thrive in team-based work and collaboration, they are huge multitaskers, and they are more experiential and exploratory learners, and so destinations must align with these expectations to customize their convention experience,” Gordon says. “Engaging Millennials by giving them responsibility and accountability for a significant portion of the agenda will impart participation through ownership of the conference content, [such as] sessions evolving from having a talking head and being more interactive and immersive, with an emphasis on group discussion.”

Calling Millennials the most likely delegate to extend business travel with vacation days, Gordon says they are attracted to big-city destinations that offer authentic experiences that tap into the local culture, music, nightlife and culinary scene.

“Toronto offers this vibrant cultural fusion, along with ‘social for good’ networking opportunities attuned to the Millennial mindset of global connectivity and originality,” she says.

Along with countless culinary and nightlife options, Toronto is ahead of the curve with experiences, diversions and amenities for today’s discerning Millennial customer.


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