Manufacturing in Scarborough is alive, well and competing world-wide, ‘Smart city’ technology for New York City, Boeing circuit boards made in Toronto suburb

They can tell you which direction a bullet was fired from, take your picture, monitor Uber drivers, give you free WiFi, and count nearby available parking spots.

Plus a lot of other things.

They are outdoor smart displays, designed, tested, and built in Scarborough, Ontario. New York City just bought 1,000 of them.

“Anything imaginable can go in here,” Justin Idems, a technical services manager for CIVIQ SmartScapes, said at a career fair showcasing manufacturing and technology companies in Scarborough.

Idems is the son of Ralph Idems, who founded a local company, Vertigo Digital Displays, which developed the displays, “smart city” technology he said is going into service around the world.

Scarborough, a Toronto suburb once known for manufacturing centres such as Eglinton Avenue’s Golden Mile, was hard-hit over the past few decades by losses in industry.

But though manufacturing and technology now accounts for only 125,000, or nine per cent, of jobs across Toronto, it’s doing well, including in Scarborough, said Michael Thompson, a local councillor.

Thompson, also the city’s economic development chairperson, said he formed the Toronto East Manufacturing and Technology Roundtable this year to fight the impression Scarborough’s manufacturing is still in decline.

“I’m talking Scarborough proud, because that’s the only way we will succeed,” he told younger attendees at the fair in the Scarborough Civic Centre rotunda on Thursday, Oct. 13.

Ralph Idems said Canadian manufacturing has a good reputation around the world.

Vertigo couldn’t get the capital it needed in Canada and was bought in May by CIVIQ, a U.S. company, but as a CIVIQ representative, Idems said he now travels to overseas cities which have bought his technology.

Scarborough is still the centre of the “smart city” universe, he told people at the fair. “If you think manufacturing is dull, then you haven’t been out of Canada.”

FTG Circuits, a member of the roundtable, makes printer circuit boards in Scarborough for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, an aircraft so popular it has a seven-year order backlog.

“We are committed in Scarborough, we are growing in Scarborough, and we are investing in Scarborough,” said Hitesh Taladi, FTG’s general manager, adding he is always looking for young engineers and technicians.

A $5-million interest-free loan from the province in 2009 helped FTG get its Dreamliner contract, but Jocelyn Williams, representing another Scarborough manufacturer, Automatic Coating Limited, said bad government policy is her company’s “biggest fear.”

Automatic Coating Limited rehabilitates pipelines and rustproofs U.S. Navy ships, but its electricity costs have soared, said Williams.

Every week, she told city councillors from Scarborough, she’s contacted by Americans offering to move the company to the U.S. “If we’re not strong, where are your children and your grandchildren going to work?” she asked them.

On the bright side, the average manufacturing wage here “far exceeds other sectors,” and such work offers a particularly good career for women, Williams said.

“One of the fastest ways to close the wage gap (with men) is to go into non-traditional jobs,” suggested Williams, co-chairperson of the roundtable.