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Ontario firms bullish about own prospects, see glass half-full

A Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft, built in Toronto. Ontario companies are generally bullish about their own prospects, a new report finds, but there are worries. For instance, China is seen as the most critical market in the next 5 to 10 years, but less than 2 per cent of Ontario exports currently go there.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Ontario businesses fret about lagging productivity, China and the province's heavy debt burden.

But companies remain surprisingly upbeat about their own prospects and investment plans, according to a new survey being released Tuesday by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto.

"There is broad concern about the overall state of the economy, but at the firm level there is quite a bit of confidence in their own organizations and their plans to invest," explained Josh Hjartarson, the OCC's vice-president of policy and government relations.

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The survey is contained in a new report, Emerging Stronger 2013, which sets out a broad economic agenda as new Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne prepares to take the reins of Canada's largest province.

"The province faces a clutch moment," the report concludes. Government debt is crowding out investment, 600,000 Ontarians are out of work and businesses are facing stiff competition for talent, investment and markets, the report says.

Among the key findings of the survey of nearly 2,400 Ontario businesses, conducted by Leger Marketing:

* Only 10 per cent of respondents say their sector is a global leader in productivity. More than a third say they are falling behind.

* China is seen as the most critical market in the next 5 to 10 years, but less than 2 per cent of Ontario exports currently go there.

* Ontario businesses are generally confident about their own prospects, ranging from a high of 87 per cent in financial services to 64 per cent in the government and non-profit sectors. The average was 72 per cent.

* Just 41 per cent of respondents said the economy is headed in the right direction.

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* A majority of companies plan to expand over the next five years, including 63 per cent of large organizations.

The report contains more than 40 recommendations to put Ontario on the right track. They include better co-ordination of federal and provincial research and development support, allowing so-called crowd-funding, pushing entrepreneurship in the classroom, creating a national standard for receiving Employment Insurance benefits, luring more foreign university students and giving the private sector a greater role in delivering government services.

"This isn't a laundry list, but it's an encompassing economic vision," Mr. Hjartarson said. "If we were running for office this is what we would put down as the priorities."

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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