Kitchener’s economic heritage is rooted in manufacturing. Industrial artifacts are located in public places throughout the city as a celebration of its manufacturing history. While the local economy’s reliance on manufacturing has decreased in recent years, 20.36% of the labour force remains employed in the manufacturing sector.
The city is home to four municipal business parks: the Bridgeport Business Park, Grand River West Business Park, Huron Business Park and Lancaster Corporate Centre. The largest, the Huron Business Park, is home to a number of industries, from seat manufacturers to furniture components.
In recent years, Kitchener’s economy has diversified to include new high-value economic clusters. In addition to Kitchener’s internationally-recognized finance and insurance and manufacturing clusters, digital media and health science clusters are emerging within the city.
Beginning in 2004, the City of Kitchener has launched several initiatives to re-energize the downtown core. These initiatives have included heavy investment, on behalf of the City and its partners, and the creation of a Downtown Kitchener Action Plan.
The modern incarnation of its historic farmers’ market, opened in 2004. The Kitchener Market is one of the oldest consistently operating markets in Canada. The Kitchener Market features local producers, international cuisine, artisans, and crafters.
In 2009, the City of Kitchener began a project to reconstruct and revitalize the main street in Kitchener’s downtown core, King Street. In the reconstruction of King Street, several features were added to make the street more friendly to pedestrians. New lighting was added to the street, sidewalks were widened, and curbs were lowered. Movable Bollards were installed to add flexibility to the streetscape, accommodating main street events and festivals. In 2010, the redesigned King Street was awarded the International Community Places Award for its flexible design intended to draw people into the downtown core. In 2009, Tree Canada recognized King Street as a green street. The redesigned King Street features several environmentally sustainable elements such as new street trees, bike racks, planter beds that collect and filter storm water, street furnishing made primarily from recycled materials, and an improved waste management system. The street itself was also reconstructed using recycled roadway and paving stones. In September 2012, the City of Toronto used Kitchener’s King Street as a model for Celebrate Yonge—a month-long event which reduced Yonge Street to two lanes, widening sidewalks to improve the commercial street for businesses and pedestrians alike.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and downtown health sciences campus was officially held on March 15, 2006, and the facility opened in spring 2009. The building is located on King Street near Victoria Street, on the site of the old Epton plant, across the street from the Kaufman Lofts (formerly the Kaufman shoe factory). McMaster University subsequently opened a satellite campus for its Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, located directly adjacent to the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy. The Health Sciences Campus has been central to the emergence of Kitchener’s health science cluster.
In 2007, Cadan Inc., a Toronto-based real estate development company, bought what was formerly the Lang Tannery for $10 million. Supported by the local government, Cadan repurposed the building as a space for commercial firms. Since its refurbishment, the Tannery has become a hub for digital media companies, both large and small. Desire2Learn, an e-learning company, located in the Tannery as the company expanded. In 2011, Communitech moved into the Tannery. Home to over 800 companies, Communitech is a hub for innovative high-tech companies in the fields of information technology, digital media, biomedical, aerospace, environmental technology and advanced manufacturing. Also in 2011, high-tech giant Google Inc. became a tenant of the Tannery, furthering its reputation as a home for leading high-tech companies.
The Province of Ontario has committed to building a new provincial courthouse in downtown Kitchener, on the block bordered by Frederick, Duke, Scott and Weber streets. The new courthouse is expected to create new jobs, mainly for the courthouse itself, but also for other businesses, especially law offices. The new courthouse construction began in 2010. The courthouse is scheduled to open in 2012.
In the downtown area, several factories have been transformed into upscale lofts and residences. In September 2010, construction began on the ‘City Centre’ redevelopment project in downtown Kitchener. This redevelopment project will include condominium units, new retail spaces, private and public parking, a gallery, and a boutique hotel. The former Arrow shirt factory is also being converted into a luxury, high-rise apartment building, featuring loft condominiums.
In 2012, Desire2Learn, located in downtown Kitchener, received $80 million in venture capitalist funding from OMERS Ventures and New Enterprise Associates.
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