Once known for its car manufacturing, the Niagara region is carving a respectable space in information communications technology (ICT) job growth in Ontario, says new Brock research.
Within the past eight years, the percentage of ICT positions in Niagara as a whole more than doubled those of the province overall, says the latest Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) policy brief.
“Niagara’s pursuit of a digital sector cannot be dismissed as an elusive quest,” says the brief, titled Elusive Quest or Emerging Reality: Niagara’s ICT Innovation Cluster.
“The region has a presence in every industry within the ICT sector, and commands considerable competencies in several of them. More importantly, the ICT sector is relatively new but growing, with some industries surpassing the provincial average.”
The biggest leap is in Niagara’s communications equipment manufacturing industry. From 2011 to 2019, jobs in this field grew from two to 45, a 2,173 per cent increase, compared to a job loss of 56.7 per cent in that field in all of Ontario.
In the area of computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, job numbers grew from 18 in 2011 to 125 in 2019, a 586.3 per cent increase, compared to 14.9 per cent in Ontario. Positions in computer systems design and related services expanded from 857 in 2011 to 1,514 in 2019, a 76.7 per cent increase, compared to 47.2 per cent in Ontario.
The occupations experiencing the most growth are information systems analysts and consultants, user support technicians, and computer programmers and interactive media developers.
Overall, the number of ICT jobs in Niagara grew 51.8 per cent in the last eight years, compared to 20.7 per cent in Ontario overall.
NCO Director and policy brief author Charles Conteh, an Associate Professor in Brock’s Department of Political Science, emphasizes the ability to “capture, transmit, manage and display data and information” as being key to economic and social resiliency and productivity.
“In the knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century, any region that misses the boat on the digital sector is practically stranded on a lonely island, facing the threat of economic and social stagnation, or worse,” says Conteh.
Despite the rosy numbers, though, the brief puts forth some cautionary findings.
It notes that almost 75 per cent of ICT enterprises in Niagara consist of one employee, with the remaining having very few staff. Only five businesses employ between 50 and 99 workers, according to the research.
“The absence of larger businesses in the sector raises concerns about the lack of anchor firms that generate more jobs, project the global image and deepen the resilience of a region’s innovation ecosystem,” says the brief.
To nurture the region’s fledgling ICT sector, the brief makes several recommendations, including that the Niagara Region and other stakeholders:
- Come up with a comprehensive data management and IP strategy as part of its long-term economic development strategy
- Generate, attract and retain talent to avoid start-ups from moving elsewhere as they expand
- Develop a rigorous strategy in which digital industry groups, incubators, accelerators and post-secondary institutions align entrepreneurship training programs with emerging opportunities
Conteh urges these and other actions to be taken, as Niagara is at “a critical crossroads” with the future of its digital sector and, more generally, its emerging “knowledge-driven economy.”
He will be releasing his policy brief at a panel discussion on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in Room 207, Cairns Complex.