Montreal is lagging behind other cities; the mayoral candidates need to propose concrete ideas on how to catch up

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Added on 21 October 2013 in Viewpoints

By Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, published in The Gazette  

October 21, 2013

Montreal is lagging behind other cities;
the mayoral candidates need to propose concrete ideas on how to catch up

Montreal is not Detroit. Far from it. However, the tragic example of the decline of the Motor City reminds us of the importance of maintaining a competitive business environment for local companies.

In an era of globalization, corporate management faces complex choices. When the time comes to decide whether or not to invest, perception counts as much as reality. Before choosing to invest in Montreal, managers need to be convinced that it offers talented labour, and a competitive business environment.

As a cosmopolitan, creative and dynamic university city, Montreal has incredible assets that have the potential to spark to exceptional entrepreneurial vitality. And yet, in spite of these assets, per capita wealth is a great deal lower than it is in other major North American cities.

Montreal is not generating enough new businesses, or creating enough new employment. Its unemployment rate is one of the highest in the province. And we are playing catch-up with other major cities on the continent. This situation is even more unsettling given that the city has close to 100 organizations whose goals are related to economic development. The solution, then, does not lie in creating an umpteenth new organization.

A 2012 study conducted for the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal revealed that the vast majority of business leaders believe that our city is no more competitive than it was in 2007. They said the business climate had not improved at all. More than a third of respondents said the business climate had in fact declined, because of the deterioration of our road infrastructure. While we have started to address chronic under-investments in infrastructure maintenance, a greater sustained effort will be required in the long term.

Montreal also needs to deal more effectively with its regional dynamics. For some 15 years, demographic and economic growth in the suburbs has exceeded growth on the island of Montreal. Competition within the region to attract households and businesses is stiff. The island of Montreal is suffering from negative perceptions as to its accessibility, cleanliness, friendliness and affordability. There’s an ongoing exodus for off-island suburbs.

These demographic changes are undermining commercial activity in the heart of the city, both downtown and along traditional commercial arteries. Cultural activities previously concentrated downtown are now finding new audiences in off-island venues.

The emergence of dynamic new service centres on the outskirts of the metropolitan region is not a problem in and of itself. The problem lies in the absence of an effective response by central-city authorities, one that addresses the concerns of businesses and consumers.

The current municipal election campaign offers a unique opportunity to address these issues and identify solutions. The four principal mayoralty candidates need to put concrete suggestions on the table to improve the business climate, and help with retention of talent, entrepreneurs and businesses.

Monday afternoon’s mayoral debate on economic issues will offer them an opportunity to do just that. Monday’s mayoral debate at the Palais de congrès on economic issues will begin at 6 p.m. It is being hosted by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal in conjunction with RDI Économie. RDI is broadcasting it live. Admission is $85 for board-of-trade members and $125 otherwise: there will be a cocktail hour before and after the one-hour debate. For more information: http://ccmm.li/1b2mC7U