Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

As dignitaries gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony of Toyota Motor Corporation’s much anticipated Cambridge assembly plant on May 6, 1986, the Waterloo Record reported that four windsocks painted to look like fish hung outside the tent where officials had gathered.

 

Called ‘koinobori’ or carp streamer, Toyota Motor Corporation’s late president Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda explained the significance of the gesture, noting the fish is known as one that fights its way, even up a waterfall.

 

“The carp streamer is used as a symbol of vitality for parents who wish good health and strong development for their children,” he was quoted at the time. “We have hoisted the koinobori here in the hope that our company will grow to become a business appreciated and respected by everyone as a whole.”

 

Nearly 40 years later, it’s clear this ‘hope’ for success has manifested as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. continues to be a major industry and economic leader, and community partner for Cambridge and southwestern Ontario as a whole.

 

From the moment the first Corolla rolled off the assembly line at its Cambridge facility shortly before 10 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1988, the company has continually succeeded creating hundreds of new jobs over the years through the expansion of new product lines.

 

Cambridge was selected from over 40 municipalities in Canada for the plant and federal government incentives were a consideration. Former Cambridge MP Chris Speyer, quoted in an article in the Dec. 12, 1985, edition of the Cambridge Reporter announcing the news, said there were incentives in the contract to encourage Toyota to buy Canadian parts and that the provincial government would contribute $15 million over five years toward a program to train Ontario workers.

 

“I’m extraordinarily proud of our community that Toyota would choose us to locate such a major enterprise. This is the happiest day of my political career,” he told the Reporter, before describing the “tremendous positive impact” the plant would have on the local economy, noting the average salaries at that time would range from between $25,000 to $30,000.

 

“Just think of what that means to housing in our area, to shopping and small business as well as the spin-off effect by other industries locating within our area in order to service Toyota,” said Speyer.

 

The Cambridge plant was expected, in the beginning, to produce 50,000 cars a year with the capacity to reach 100,000 when market conditions permitted, providing work for 1,000 employees.

 

In a Reporter article published a year before the plant opened, it was reported that a progress report indicated it would provide 1,000 direct manufacturing jobs that would result in another 2,000 new jobs in the automotive and service industry.

 

To date, TMMC now employs more than 8,500 people across its three production lines in Cambridge and Woodstock. In Cambridge alone, its North and South plants encompass three million square feet on 400 acres located at the corner of Maple Grove Road and Fountain Street North.

 

The company, which has won numerous awards recognizing it as a ‘top employer’ and ‘greenest employer’, continues to thrive and evolve.

 

In August of last year, it marked a special anniversary when a red Lexus NX 350h hybrid electric luxury SUV, rolled off the line in Cambridge representing the 10th million vehicle produced by TMMC.

 

“Today’s milestone speaks to how far Toyota’s manufacturing operations in Canada have come over the past three decades,” said TMMC President Frank Voss in a press release at the time. “In 1988, the year we opened our first plant in Cambridge, our team members built 153 Toyota Corollas and it took over 11 years to produce our first 11 million vehicles. Today, we’re Canada’s largest automaker and leading maker of electrified vehicles, building half a million Toyota and Lexus vehicles for the North American market every year. Our world-class team members have been trusted to build some of the most popular vehicles in North America and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

 

 

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The sign outside the Hamilton Family Theatre in downtown Cambridge which usually is ablaze with light announcing current and upcoming productions for Drayton Entertainment has remained blank for some time.

 

But with vaccination rates rising and COVID-19 infection numbers continuing to slide downward, there is a growing sense of optimism in many business sectors, including tourism and sports and recreation, both which generate a hefty spinoff in our local economy and have been hit extremely hard by this crisis.

 

“It (optimism) permeates our industry because the pandemic has reinforced to many arts organizations about how important the arts are to so many Ontarians and recognizing the role they play contributing to a healthy and prosperous society,” says Steven Karcher, Executive Director of Drayton Entertainment. “I don’t think people realized how much they enjoy and appreciate the arts until they ceased to exist.”

 

He recalls how overnight the world changed for Drayton Entertainment in mid-March of 2020 when it was forced to cancel the run of its first show of the season Kinky Boots, which quickly led to pulling the plug on the entire theatre season at its seven stages.

 

“It was a difficult but necessary decision,” says Steven, noting how the company, which is also a registered charity, lost 100% of its revenue and had already incurred the pre-production costs of preparing 832 performances for its 2020 season. In fact, he says an increase of 20,000 tickets over the 2019 season had already been sold.

 

He says recovery will be a ‘multi-year’ effort and that for an arts organization like Drayton Entertainment, it is not something that can rebound in six months.

 

“We’re not able to just take our product and simply put it on a shelf and pivot to reopening with a notice of 48 hours,” says Steven. “We’re talking about an artistic process that takes anywhere from six to eight months in order to realize the end result that people will be seeing on stage.”

 

For sports organizations, detailed planning is also required to prepare of an upcoming season.

 

Indoor Soccer Park Sign“I think we were always optimistic there was going to be a season for our recreational league kids,” says Derrick Bridgman, General Manager of Cambridge Youth Soccer, referring to the 2020 season.

 

He says planning had started in March of last year to prepare for the upcoming season and that 1,000 children had registered to play outdoors when the scope of the pandemic became clear.

“At first we didn’t know how long it was going to last or was it only going to be that ‘magical’ two weeks, or would it be done in a couple of months so we could get our season in,” says Derrick.

 

He says thanks to a comprehensive return to play plan created by the Ontario Soccer Association, his group was able to see a limited amount of action on the field and by the end of last summer had managed to see a few games played.

 

However, that changed in the fall when new restrictions came into play and affected Cambridge Youth Soccer’s Fountain Street North indoor facility, which the group also rents to external users.

 

“We thought it (pandemic) would be behind us when it came to our indoor season but unfortunately there was such a significant impact on indoor sports,” says Derrick, referring to the indoor capacity levels which at one point only allowed up to 50 people – players included - at a game. “We had to get resourceful and creative, just like a lot of other sports organizations and try and maintain a positivity not only for our staff, but for our users. I think a lot of parents just want to get back to normal.”

 

He says there is a sense of optimism for the upcoming season, noting seeing those between 12-17 getting vaccinated has been a positive step. However, he says his group, like many sports organizations, remain at the ‘mercy’ of the province, health officials and the City of Cambridge whom they rent fields from in terms of possible restrictions.

 

“Also, there are parents that aren’t comfortable yet putting their kids back into sports until they’re confident the pandemic is over,” says Derrick, adding his organization is now looking to start its 2021 season the weekend of July 11 in accordance with the province’s three-step reopening plan.

 

“The government has been intentionally vague, in my opinion, in how it has crafted some of the wording when it comes to sports and recreation,” he says. “I think they did that on purpose so provincial sports organizations can amend their return to play documentation.”

 

Minto Schneider, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region, says the sports and recreation sector is returning a little faster than others.

 

“We’re also seeing conferences rebook as well. It’s happening, but happening slowly,” she says, noting experts are not predicting a full economic recovery until 2024. “Part of the challenge is that leisure travel will likely rebound more quickly, but business travel is not rebounding as quickly since conferences generally have a further booking window.”

 

Minto says also having the U.S./Canada border closed and seeing conferences cancelled in the GTA has also affected local tourism due to the substantial spinoff visitors bring to the hospitality industry in terms of hotel stays and restaurant visits.

“One of the things that really drives the tourism business in Waterloo Region is group business, whether it’s a sports tournament or a conference. Those are the things that really drive our visitor traffic,” she says, adding there have been limited ‘windows’ between lockdowns for potential visitors. “We’ve had to be very cautious of how we promote our region. We don’t want to be seen as trying to attract visitors from other areas, particularly at a time when Toronto and Peel were in the ‘Red Zone’. It’s been challenging.”

 

But in turn, Minto says Explore Waterloo Region has been promoting the region to its own residents, encouraging them to get out and see what exists in their own backyards.

 

“That’s been the silver lining to this whole thing. We’ve been able to, hopefully, create ‘ambassadors’ for Waterloo Region within the region itself.”

 

In the future, Minto also says more conferences will operate using a hybrid method, allowing participants the opportunity to attend in person or virtually.

 

“This will be great because never before will so many people have the have opportunity to learn more,” she says.

 

Several virtual initiatives launched in the past year by Drayton Entertainment have also helped his organization, says Steven. Among these was a virtual variety show engaging more than 40 artists using the video platform Vimeo.

 

“We were completely overwhelmed by the uptake on that,” he says, adding the show was viewed by more than 80,000 people worldwide and came away with 125,000 impressions.

 

This was followed by a cabaret series via Facebook, plus Drayton Entertainment has continued its ‘world famous’ 50/50 draw online.

 

“We’ve been able to give away significant jackpots in the three months we’ve been running that,” he says, adding having the 50/50 draw has also ensured Drayton Entertainment fans and supporters remain feeling connected to the organization.

 

And although a virtual component may still play a role for Drayton Entertainment once audiences are allowed to return to its theatres, Steven says it will never replace the feel of having a live audience.

 

“One of the things people don’t realize is how imperative a live audience is to not just a live theatre experience, but any live cultural experience,” he says, adding people crave the ‘connectivity’ of being together, even when it comes to family gatherings.

 

Minto agrees and says vaccinations and initiatives, such as the rapid screening kit program launched by the Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce, and Communitech, have been beneficial to the community.

 

“I think it has given people confidence that they can go to work. In our industry, we’ve had staff who’ve been afraid to go back to work because they hadn’t been working for a while and want to make sure they don’t bring something home with them to their families,” she says, adding Explore Waterloo Region and the Chambers continue to work with other partners to ensure the most up-to-date and reliable information is conveyed to all their stakeholders.

 

“I think everyone is really looking forward to a time when they can actually open their businesses and welcome people back,” she says.

 

For more on Explore Waterloo Region, visit http://www.explorewaterlooregion.com. For information about Drayton Festival, visit https://bit.ly/3z2aqop. And for more on Cambridge Youth Soccer, visit www.cambridgesoccer.ca

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