Town of Milton

A Place of Possibility

Milton, Ontario has undergone a major transformation since originally being founded as a mill town and farming community in the 1830s predominantly by Scottish, English and Irish immigrants, and a great deal of that change began to really take hold over the past two decades. However, the heritage brought by those early settlers is still quite evident all these decades later. Fast forward to present day and Milton is now in the midst of a substantial rebranding campaign in order to better reflect the characteristics and offerings it provides for both residents and businesses in 2018.

In 1996, the population of Milton was about 32,000. Between 2001 and 2006, the Town saw a 71% growth in population and there was another 56.5% population increase in the next five years to 2011. Since then, Milton’s population has continued this upward trend, increasing its population by about 30.5% between 2011 and 2016. But while many things constantly change, others seem to stay exactly the same. Such has been the case for Milton Mayor Gordon Krantz, who reached a significant milestone on December 1, 2016, when he surpassed former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion as the longest, continuously serving mayor of a major municipality in Canada.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Barb Koopmans, Milton’s Commissioner of Planning & Development and Andrew Siltala, Milton’s Director of Strategic Initiatives & Economic Development about the incredibly successful story of their town and a number of exciting plans for the future.

With a current population of 113,200, Milton continues to be at the leading edge as one of Canada’s fastest growing municipalities.  The pronounced economic and population explosion can primarily be traced back to 1999 and the Halton Regional Infrastructure and Urban Plan, and the extension of the lake-based water and wastewater treatment to Milton, which was an essential impetus for the growth.

“A regional plan amendment at that time that added to the Milton urban area boundaries and added three residential secondary plan areas,” says Koopmans.

The Rebrand

Upon celebrating its 160th anniversary of incorporation in 2017, Town executives, including Koopmans and Siltala, believed it was time to implement a strong rebranding campaign in order to better reflect the municipality’s current demographics that clearly shows a young, vibrant growing diverse population.

“That’s one of the real key pieces for us,” says Siltala. “We felt the need to rebrand because the community has changed so much and it has such a dynamic  future. We felt that we needed to have a branding and a visual identity that represents not just the past but more about what the future holds.”

“The average age of our population is 35 and post-secondary education is at 75%,” adds Koopmans.

In combination with the overall diversity, Milton has a very progressive forward-thinking population. ‘A Place of Possibilities’ is the rebranding catchphrase that was selected to best reflect the spirit and character of the young, vibrant community that has so much to offer.

In addition to many people who are moving to Milton thanks to the increased development in both the business and residential bases, it also provides an incentive for those who were born and raised in the Town to want to remain as they grow older.

“There are various forms of development such as apartment-based, condominium-based, and seniors’ housing. We have a much wider range of housing choices than we’ve ever had,” says Siltala.

The excellent geographic location has always served as a key component for success, although as Siltala notes, it is now for much different reasons than it was in the past. It was once due to the proximity to the highways and logistics corridors. Now it’s in prime location along Ontario’s Innovation Corridor between Toronto and Waterloo.  But geography is the secondary reason for economic growth. The primary reason for success can be pinpointed directly to the high-quality of educated people and the diversified talent pool according to Siltala.

“The kind of people that we are attracting to Milton is largely where we drew our brand catchphrase ‘A Place of Possibility’,” he says. “The town will continue to be built on the talent and skill level of those people.”

“People want a complete community,” adds Koopmans.  “This population wants all the amenities and to have that ‘Live, Work, Play’ relationship and Milton is able to provide that in very close proximity to that integration of housing and other amenities.”

As the Town’s senior officials continue to develop a complete community there has been cognizant recognition of major factors that are important to the mix. One of the biggest ones would be the Milton Education Village and the addition of both a college and university campus to the mix, which both Koopmans and Siltala agree is a game-changer.

A campus of Sir Wilfrid Laurier University has been approved by the Province of Ontario. It’s now a matter of waiting for an official announcement regarding funding for the specifics of the first project. As part of Laurier’s submission to the provincial government is a plan to be associated with Conestoga College regarding course offerings, which has created added excitement and anticipation.

“It’s a huge asset to the application because Conestoga has a number of programs relating to advanced manufacturing, which is very appropriate along the Innovation Corridor. We see them as a very important partner to the project,” states Siltala.

During what has been a robust economic outburst, Milton has often been touted as an excellent place to invest, and once again the high level of human talent is a primary reason why. Access to a workforce that lives in a complete community – happy, engaged, diverse – those are the things employers are constantly looking for when deciding upon places to locate.

Both Koopmans and Siltala have a strong vision for how the Town will continue to grow and evolve as an integrated, mixed-use community.

“We are respecting stable neighborhoods, identifying key and important locations for redevelopment and, in terms of urban structure, looking at community amenities and opportunities. As an example, we’ve got the Trafalgar Corridor, which connects 400 series highways and transit and is what we call the Sustainable Halton lands, which is the next urban expansion area,” says Koopmans.

Historic Downtown

Milton is blessed with an historic, beautiful downtown, which houses the major concentration of its pre-Confederation buildings and holds a very distinct character with the Farmer’s Market and is easily walkable. The downtown core is dominated by the heritage buildings and is interactive in terms of being pedestrian friendly.

Koopmans says Town Council has always been very supportive of the downtown core, recognizing its historical significance as well as current initiatives both from a business perspective and also from a local community aspect. In 1997, when the growth plan was adapted, Council expanded the downtown and the central business district to encompass a large area to the east of the historic downtown.

“We’ve recently completed a downtown study looking at opportunities for sensitive intensification and redevelopment within the downtown core to further strengthen its presence. But the other part of downtown is identified as an urban growth center in terms of the provincial growth plan,” says Koopmans.

The plan is to accommodate 200 jobs and residents per hectare in that area, which is generally characterized by former industrial buildings with outstanding potential for redevelopment including the immediate areas surrounding the Go Station. There is access to convenient shopping and to leisure and cultural facilities.

“Our downtown is a fairly long stretch and has two defined areas. There is the historical heritage area and then the secondary area out by the Go station where it’s much more appropriate for us to consider growth in that area. We really do have a vision for growth in the right places and really maintaining the stable neighborhoods in the areas that they currently exist,” says Siltala.

Retaining the downtown’s character is not so much about keeping a traditional small-town feel as opposed to what the community values as a whole.

“People may come here for the small-town feel but they are definitely looking for the amenities of a growing municipality,” says Koopmans.

A Place of Possibility

Local residents and business owners have been telling Koopmans and Siltala that they want Milton to be a place of possibility. They like the notion of a place that respects its natural heritage but also is able to provide new opportunities that will allow the municipality to compete not only on a national level, but globally. They envision a community for their children, for themselves and a place for their parents to age in high-quality facilities, with such resources as libraries, community centres and sports and recreation facilities.

“It was important for us to present a new brand that would truly be a reflection of what the community itself was looking for and that really came through in the types of words and feelings that they were expressing,” says Siltala.

A more recent infrastructure development and big attraction in Milton is the velodrome, which is located in the Milton Education Village. It’s a wonderful legacy from the 2015 Pan-Am Games and is officially known as the Mattamy National Cycling Centre. The velodrome is located on a section of a 150-acre plot of land, the rest of which has been designated for what is expected to be the future campus of Wilfrid Laurier University.

“It’s a world-class facility that has events on a regular basis, bringing in people from around the world,” says Siltala.

Koopmans and the Town staff are now working on the secondary planning program for the Milton Education Village. It’s much more than just the university campus and the velodrome; they are researching the best ways to develop a complete community and ensure it continues to successfully evolve.

“The university campus is certainly a catalyst for that kind of community but there still is opportunity in that location for other really important business elements that want that type of integrated atmosphere. We are now in the process of getting all the planning building blocks in place,” confirms Koopmans.

A major transit study is also being embarked upon, which will include the area immediately around the Main Street Go Station. All-day Go-Transit is extremely important to Milton as a link between Toronto and Waterloo and other regions of southern Ontario. But Koopmans is quick to point out that having a Go station is not enough; there must be sufficient urban amenities surrounding it in order for it to come alive and flourish.

The Innovation Centre has been extremely successful with a number of startups being launched, which has provided a great deal of optimism and an impetus do expand upon its offerings and continue to make it a focal economic point within the business community.

“It was an early experiment to see what the community needed.  We have built a nice partnership with Laurier at the current site of the Innovation Centre and the ultimate destination will be to have it within the Education Village itself,” says Siltala.

There are currently about 25 companies working out of the Innovation Centre with another 30 independent people who co-work out of the space. The wide range of companies is something that is of keen interest to both Koopmans and Siltala with everything from healthcare technology, advanced manufacturing, digital media and ICT businesses.

“About 40% of the people in the Innovation Centre as our tenants have collaborated with others within the centre itself to be working on other projects and these are people who hadn’t known each other prior to being in the Innovation Centre. It’s creating a collaborative environment having all these different skillsets in one location,” remarks Siltala.

Entertainment & Tourism

Milton is blessed with a wide variety of top-quality entertainment and tourism venues including the likes of Mohawk Raceway, the OLG slots, the Mattamy National Cycling Centre (velodrome), Bruce Trail, Conservation Halton, Crawford Lake Conservation Area, Kelso Conservation Area, Mountsberg Conservation Area, Glen Eden Ski & Snowboard Centre, Rattlesnake Point and the Rattlesnake Point Golf Course.

“Tourism is more a contributor to the quality of life aspects than anything else,” says Siltala. “We’ve got some tremendous resources that look as if they’re just tourism assets but a real good example is the system of trails, run by Conservation Halton. It’s an incredible asset that is used by tourists on a regular basis but is really a community asset more than anything.”

Another major attraction dubbed “The Giant’s Rib” is a proposed geopark that will bring in existing Conservation Halton sites such as Hilton Falls, Kelso, Crawford Lake, as well as surrounding smaller parks in the Region and parts of the Town of Puslinch just south of Guelph with a total of more than 10,000 acres available.

Additionally, the Town has acquired land within the Niagara Escarpment plan on the western edge of the urban area boundary with the primary incentive of contributing to the continuum of expansive park land.

“Because of the topography around the escarpment out to Rattlesnake Point Golf Club and beyond it has been a mecca for serious cyclists, even prior to the velodrome” says Koopmans.

An important partnership between Laurier and Conservation Halton continues to blossom. All of those wonderful assets from the point of view of the natural sciences has brought the two sides together to determine how best to program the areas as living labs, where students can conduct experiential learning.

“The whole Crawford Lake area has a significant First Nations heritage site. There are tremendous synergies between what Laurier may do in terms of programming in those sites as well,” says Siltala.

Blending the Past and the Future

Milton has always been known for its robust industrial base for well over 50 years and many of those traditional industries have one thing in common with the new wave of economic sectors: they all require innovation, creativity and new solutions in order to be successful with a maximum level of efficiency moving forward.

“Regardless of what sector they may be they’re all in the innovation sector. If they don’t find ways to innovate they don’t remain competitive in the world economy,” says Siltala.

Logistics is just one example of an industry that uses innovation at an exceptionally high rate. The Town of Milton is hosting forums on innovation and logistics and the Innovation Centre on a regular basis.

The equine industry is another prime example where a vast amount of innovation is being implemented with respect to the health, training and monitoring of the animals.

The rebranding campaign has been a tremendous success to date. Koopmans and Siltala are confident that the new identity will serve to greatly enhance the Town’s economic well-being and success in the near- and long-term.

“I would like to see a high degree of community participation in planning for the future. We are trying to use technology and other non-traditional approaches to be able to solicit public opinion and get people involved in building their community,” says Koopmans.

“From a development perspective I’d really like to see some iconic buildings in a few key locations. Whether we attract different ideas through design competitions or again, through non-traditional approaches, it’s about bringing in game-changers to the municipality to show what can be done,” concludes Koopmans.

“For me, I’d like to see those same people that Barb (Koopmans) is trying to engage on a regular basis – from a point of view of public consultation – to have us be able to hear what they are saying and deliver on what it is that they’re looking for,” says Siltala. “I’d like more people that are living in Milton to be able to have jobs here that are the appropriate types that they’re looking for and based on a community that is ‘a place of possibility’, that is a complete community and has all those elements within it.”