Neil Everson, who managed Hamilton’s Economic Development Department over two decades has died at the age of 62. He had been suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease for several years.
When Neil Everson joined Hamilton’s Economic Development department in 1988, the city was at the beginning of an industrial decline. Although steel was the major employer still in Hamilton in 1988, there was a growing sense that Hamilton needed to diversify its economy if it were to avoid becoming a rust-bucket city as was already happening in the US. As an example of trying to diversify, the city had invested in a convention centre and heavily subsidized the construction of a downtown hotel in order to attract more tourism. “One of the primary objectives was for diversification of the local economy and we made it a focus,” said Neil. “With diversification we could weather any kind of an economic downturn or shock… a lot faster than other municipalities who do not have a diversified economy.”
Almost from the beginning Neil Everson talked about the need for shovel-ready land to attract new industry at a time when many believed the city had a surplus of industrial land. The trouble was the kind of heavily contaminated industrial land Hamilton offered was not attractive to newer, advanced manufacturers coming on stream.
Still Neil’s department soldiered ahead selling Hamilton to external audiences and gradually building credibility by focusing on customer service, building solid business contacts and good research and less on the backslapping approach to Economic Development.
The going was slow in the early years but the pace of economic growth for Hamilton picked up with the completion of the Red Hill Expressway.. “It had a huge effect,” said Neil. ”the Red Hill and the Linc were right at capacity right after they were built.” Quickly following the construction of the expressways there was an explosion of commercial development on the East Mountain and the industrial parks that are now home to Canada Bread and Maple Leaf Foods became a reality. A second major development that occurred was a substantial increase in the department’s budget, which allowed it to provide more customer service and more aggressive business development. “Mayor Eisenberger’s input got us the extra budget, and that made a huge difference for us,” Neil recalled at the time of his retirement.
The changes in the Hamilton economy can be measured in statistics, jobs and tax assessment, but for Neil the big change is seen in the attitude the rest of the GTAH shows towards Hamilton. “This city has gone through a tremendous transition. All of a sudden this is the place where people want to be. When we landed Canada bread we had 3 busloads of employees come up here…they said ‘we had no idea Hamilton was like this we had no idea there was this kind of infrastructure in terms of schools’. That really woke a lot of people up. We got Canada bread and that opened up the door to make a bid to maple leaf foods.”
In his death notice the family says, “ Neil was a professional curler, a master golfer, and an owner of a prize-winning show dog (Neil also embellished from time to time). Neil had early-onset Alzheimer’s, and has finally found peace from his disease. Neil’s wife (Peggy) and sons Mark (Amanda) and Bill (Cy) ask that in honour of his memory, remove any shame in speaking openly about your mental health struggles, and do not be afraid to ask for help. A cremation and private family service has taken place. Neil is now embarking on the longest dog-walk yet – so if a donation in his honour wishes to be made, please consider the Hamilton SPCA.”