Hamilton is welcoming immigrants like no other Canadian city.
Global Hamilton, an outreach initiative designed to draw more newcomers to the city, began in 2012 as a project out of the city manager’s office. It’s now shifted to economic development.
Attracting newcomers is critical to economic growth because any net labour force growth in Ontario is coming from immigration.
“Some of our city leaders felt we needed to be more proactive in terms of attracting immigrants and international investors and to put Hamilton on the map as a place with opportunities for newcomers,” said Sarah Wayland, project lead for Global Hamilton.
The city offers quality of life, leading health and education institutions, affordability, and a growing, diversified economy, says Wayland. Hamilton has repeatedly been named among the best real estate markets in Canada, has a strong innovation sector and was ranked in 2016 among Smart21 Communities in the world.
Wayland authored a strategy focused on getting Hamilton’s message out, attracting immigrants, supporting the businesses they create and retaining more of the 7,000 international students in the city.
“Hamilton welcomes newcomers, celebrates diversity and is a place for everyone to call home,” said Nicole Longstaff, senior project manager for the Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council(HIPC). The planning and advisory council launched in 2009 and facilitates partnerships to coordinate the delivery of services to newcomers, including those in housing, health, employment and education.
Wayland knows of no other city in Canada being so strategic about attracting immigrants or making them happy once they arrive. She was invited to an immigration forum hosted by the United Nations to share Hamilton’s initiatives.
HIPC, for its part, has collaborated on events for employers, produced newcomer resources and showcases immigrant success stories.
Among them is Jonid Hametaj, whose family arrived when he was 13 from Albania. They had escaped civil war with black-market passports through Slovenia and Italy, being whisked away by masked men and bribing airport officials.
They arrived in Hamilton with nothing and speaking no English.
“I remember driving down the highway from Pearson at 1 a.m. and seeing all the lights on in the office buildings. It seemed like everyone here was rich and we had nothing.”
But Hamilton and Canada supported his family, he says, providing an education and social assistance. He learned English surrounded by other immigrants at his downtown high school.
“It was really nice to see a country that would take care of us as refugees,” said Hametaj, who now operates JH Accounting, which specializes in advising immigrant business owners.
“Immigrants have a strong sense of responsibility and pride. They want to build a better life. Hamilton let us do that.”
For Dilek Duman, there was “cultural shock” when she left Istanbul and arrived in Hamilton eight years ago. “It wasn’t a shining city in those years.”
But Hamilton’s creative sector and diversity has exploded since and Duman says she’s proud of her adopted hometown. She’s co-founded a branding agency –Dyer and Duman Design – with Veronica Dyer, who grew up just outside of Hamilton. After six months in a coworking space, they’ve taken a unit in the historic Lister building downtown.
Ninety-three per cent of the immigrant-owned businesses surveyed in 2016 said Hamilton is making an effort to be a welcoming community, says Wayland. That was clear in the support for a crowdfunding campaign backing three Syrian refugee women starting a catering business.
“The sustained interest and compassion shown to the Syrian newcomers has really brought the community together,” said Longstaff. Close to 1,500 refugees from the devastated nation settled in Hamilton between November 2015 and February 2017.
“They are are trusting us with their future,” said Wayland.
Immigrants are more likely to launch businesses but they are often “shocked” by Canada’s business-re- lated regulations, says Wayland. Global Hamilton offers workshops and can help applicants connect to facilitators at City Hall to shepherd them through the process.
“Hamilton wants everyone to succeed in starting a business.”