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Made in Toronto: how the city’s few remaining factories manage to survive

As corporate owners seek out cheap labour overseas, the city’s manufacturing sector has nearly disappeared. The factories that survive have learned to adapt by tapping in to local ingenuity. Here, a snapshot of the workers who keep them running

Made in Toronto: how Toronto's few remaining factories survive by tapping in to local ingenuity

The rules of the global economy are unforgiving: if a product can be made more cheaply in Sri Lanka, it will be. This partly explains why the Toronto manufacturing sector has shrunk by almost 30 per cent in the past decade. Kodak, a relic in the digital age, closed its 800-person Mount Dennis plant in 2005; Honeywell shut down its 263-person Scarborough operation in 2011; Caterpillar will make its last tunnel-boring machine at its Mississauga factory next year. But more than a few factories remain, and they constitute a significant part of the city’s economy, employing 128,000 people, almost 10 per cent of all workers. Last year, they produced goods worth $13.5 billion. The majority of these plants are in the inner suburbs, primarily in the west end, clustered around highways 427 and 400, and in Scarborough, near the CN marshalling yards—where trains transport raw and finished product. Some local industries are even thriving, especially food production (which requires good access to farms, safe water and a cosmopolitan workforce with a firm grasp of global food trends), pharmaceuticals (which taps in to a local pool of educated workers), and transportation (Bombardier and Ford have developed an intricate local network of specialist parts suppliers). But even those factories are endangered, susceptible to rising property values and the city’s latest wave of residential intensification: Etobicoke’s 60-year-old Mr. Christie plant is set to close this year, eliminating 550 jobs. Its parent company intends to redevelop the 11-hectare site with 27 condo towers.

 

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