The Town by the Lake

Ajax, Ontario

“Development is the operative word in Ajax for sure,” says Paul Allore, Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Ajax, Ontario. “We’re always either leading in the region or in the one-two in terms of building permit activity.”

Known as Ajax by the Lake for its seven kilometres of protected frontage along Lake Ontario, the Town of Ajax is located east of the Greater Toronto Area in the Durham region in Southern Ontario’s eastern section of the Golden Horseshoe. At 110,000, Ajax’s population has doubled in the past 20 years. Ajax was incorporated as a town in 1955 and is currently one of the fastest growing economic areas in the province.

Ajax can attribute its beginning to World War II and the subsequent establishment of Defence Industries Limited (D.I.L) in 1941. D.I.L was North America’s largest defence industry players, providing supplies for World War II allies through its munitions plant.

As a war plant community, workers came from across Canada to work at D.I.L. The name Ajax was selected because the HMS Ajax, along with her sister ships, the HMS’s Exeter and Achilles, were successful in the first British naval victory against the German battleship Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate near Uruguay, South America. “Most of the streets in Ajax are named after the sailors in that battle,” explains Paul.

When location is everything
Being located on the 401 corridor, a vital economic link across Southern, Central and Eastern Ontario, has been advantageous to Ajax’s growth considering that the highway is North America’s busiest. A new 400 series highway, the 407 East toll highway extension, and the high speed interchange link, will run north of the 401 and is currently in Phase I of construction with Phase II expected to be completed in 2020. Speaking about the 407 East extension, Paul notes that, “this is just on the border of Ajax. It’s going to be huge for our economic growth.”

Plans for the construction of the new Pickering airport were announced in 2013. Pickering airport will be located a short distance from Ajax and will prove to be a huge economic driver for the region. The airport is expected to cost over $2 billion and will serve the Greater Toronto and Golden Horseshoe regions. The airport is expected to be operational by 2037 and Paul adds, “Just knowing that it’s coming helps.”

Developing key sectors
Going forward, Ajax’s economic development strategy focuses on the development of four key sectors including healthcare, business and professional services, manufacturing and tourism. Ajax’s Rogue Valley Health System (RVHS) community hospital, founded in 1954, serves the communities of east Toronto and west Durham and underwent a $94 million redevelopment in 2010. Major expansion included a new intensive care unit and an emergency room. Paul notes that the expansion has proved to be “a key in helping to attract people and investment in the community. It’s a quality hospital within the community and has really served us well.”

Recent reports indicate that although not in a merger at the current time, RVHS and The Scarborough Hospital (TSH), east of Toronto, are planning an integration of services to better coordinate and improve patient care for selected services. This opportunity for integration will be implemented late in 2014 and into 2015.

With close to 2000 businesses in the Town of Ajax and a work force of 85,000, Ajax encourages and assists businesses in their start up and expansion plans in the area. Paul notes that the latest major expansion, just completed last year, was at Intact Insurance, Canada’s largest home, auto and business insurance provider. Intact has been in Ajax for a number of years and its 40,000 square foot expansion reaffirms the firm’s commitment to the town by providing a much needed service and accommodating growing business needs. Intact Insurance currently employs 200 people and the expansion will create an additional 200 jobs.

There are also a number of large plants in Ajax, including Logistics in Motion Inc., a one million square foot freight forwarding company employing 700, and SAFRAN Messier-Bugatti-Dowty Inc., a manufacturer of landing gears for the aeronautical industry employing over 600.

Paul explains that, “We’ve had good success on the manufacturing and distribution side,” and notes that one of Ajax’s newest expansions, M.A. Stewart and Sons, established in 1955, now has a 30,000 square foot facility in the town. The company distributes valves and fittings to both the commercial and industrial industries and currently employs a staff of 20.

Speaking about developing the tourism sector, Paul shares that, “On the tourism side we’ve been aggressive and very strategic in terms of what happens at our interchange lands with the 401.” Ajax is well positioned to accommodate tourists and host business conventions with its Hilton Garden Inn and Ajax Convention Centre, the award recipient for “Reader’s Choice Diamond Award for Premiere Banquet Facility in Durham Region.” Both sites are easily accessed from the 401 highway.

In addition, Ajax’s latest Homewood Suites by Hilton will represent a $20 million development that will be open in May 2014. The hotel will be located adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn and the Convention Centre. The six-storey hotel will benefit the region, especially considering that Ajax will be hosting the Pan Am Games baseball and softball events in July 2015.

The hotel is expected to create 60 hospitality jobs and says Paul, “It’s an extended stay hotel which is very popular with business… these units have kitchenettes, a living area and one or two bedrooms, so they’re like little apartments for [business people] to come and stay.” It’s anticipated that with this new development Ajax will be seen as a premier convention site for the Durham region.

In 2012, the ground breaking of another new landmark for Ajax came in the form of the ‘Vision at Pat Bayly Square’ development, a $300 million mixed-use development in the town’s downtown area – a first for Durham region. Revitalizing the downtown core has been an ongoing commitment for Ajax’s town Council, and it is anticipated that the financial benefit for Ajax and region will be $2.6 billion by 2053.

The nine acre Vision at Pat Bayly Square development will include a civic square with a 24 storey rental tower including ground floor retail and commercial space, public transit, and pedestrian amenities. The development will provide a gateway into downtown Ajax and Paul enthusiastically states that, “We put that [development] completely through our process and had building permits issued in just under a year.”

Setting priorities
The Town of Ajax is Ontario’s first municipality to be ISO 9001:2000 registered and the first Canadian recipient to earn the Competitive Ready Seal in 2012. This Seal recognizes several best practice measures toward making business transition into the community much easier.

The criteria to being deemed Competitive Ready is stringent and auditors evaluate numerous considerations including physical infrastructure, sustainable practices, business climate and organizational effectiveness, all areas in which Ajax earned the highest scores.

Particularly impressive is Ajax’s Priority Path™ municipal process to assist business expansion. Priority Path™ customers receive expedited site plan and building approvals so that they can get their businesses off the ground and established without the sometimes costly delays of regulatory requirements. “Priority Path™ is primarily to assist employment type applicants to get through the system,” says Paul. He explains that the town sits down with a company planning to locate in Ajax and essentially ask them when they need to be open for business, rather than telling them when they can open. It’s a mutual information sharing relationship in which both the town and the potential company work together to achieve required action within a given time frame.

Paul notes that this process isn’t a triaged system, like some others, but rather a priority setting one, with preference given to those businesses that offer important investments for the community in such areas as employment. “We develop a schedule together with the business investors,” says Paul, emphasizing that, “We will meet our timelines – always.”

Through the process’ corporate calling system, a staffer makes visits to the businesses to gain familiarity and discern their needs and future expansion plans. “We get ahead of them in terms of what they’re going to do and we make ourselves available if they’re going to do something; we’re going to be here to help them do it,” continues Paul. “Ninety five percent of our businesses are SMEs and those are the ones we’ve had great success in growing and developing helping relationships with.”

As to the future of the Town of Ajax, Paul reiterates that there is redevelopment potential with lots of vacant land. “We have the largest serviced shovel-ready employment lands available in the region,” he says. “We have over 700 acres that are ready to go that we’ve fought to keep for employment purposes. Now we’re starting to see the fruits of that. People are starting to come.”

For more information about Ajax, Ontario, please visit http://www.ajax.ca/en/

November 19, 2017, 3:31 AM EST