Edit: In the previous post, we gave out a link to download some background documents that didn’t work for everyone. To make files easier to access, we have uploaded them here as well.
Morgan Solar Support Letter – This document is a letter that you can copy and paste into an email, and includes the email addresses of the mayor, deputy mayor and the Planning and Growth Management Council.
The City of Toronto Planning and Growth Management Committee is meeting on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 to decide whether to rezone 30 Ordnance Street, the current location of a solar panel factory, in order to make way for another condo development. If you care about Toronto’s economic and social future then please take the time to read the following.
I am the President of Morgan Solar, and I have a brief time slot to address the Committee to persuade them to keep the land zoned as an Employment Area. This is an opportunity to get involved, to bear witness to City Council’s decision. Your informed attention may have a significant positive impact on the growth of this great city.
This is what I intend to communicate to the Toronto city council on Wednesday:
I am here representing two distinct interests.
On the one hand, I am the President of Morgan Solar, a fast growing, genuinely cutting-edge green technology company. Our factory is located just south of Queen St. West’s Trinity Bellwoods Park in an industrial pocket nestled between two train tracks. The building is emblazoned with the name of its original owner, Canadian Patent Scaffolding. While we don’t know its exact age, it is a beautiful, classic factory with tall windows and a wood ceiling. Up until now the factory’s land has been zoned as ‘Employment Lands’; now there is a real possibility that it will be rezoned as ‘Mixed Use’, and two high-rise condominiums built where our factory now is. If the City approves the application to rezone the land, Morgan Solar would be forced to pack up and move, likely to one of the City’s surrounding suburbs. While moving will have an inevitable impact on operations it is not going to make or break the company, so as President of Morgan Solar I can live with and accept this situation; our company will prosper one way or the other. Of this I am very confident.
On the other hand, I am here as a citizen of Toronto, someone who loves and admires this city. I think this is the best place to live in the world.
I lived in the GTA as a teenager and I studied Engineering Science at the University of Toronto, later doing a Masters in Engineering there. I’ve lived here off and on since 1995; however, when I started this company I did not live in Toronto. At the time, I was working as a research associate in Physics at the Catholic University of Chile, this after working for a year in Africa for Médecins Sans Frontières. I could not ignore the socials problems that I witnessed caused by the lack of electricity in Africa, and I decided to stop my research with the university and pour all my creative efforts in a direction that I thought could make a real difference in the world. I made the decision to create a solar energy start-up in order to solve the issue of electricity availability in the developing world.
My parents live in Madrid, I speak fluent French and Spanish, I could have gone anywhere in the world but I came here, for some very practical reasons. Why? In addition to being a world class, creative, vibrant, multicultural city with some of the best engineering schools on the planet, the people of Toronto are also very good at making things. Once upon a time we had an industrial backbone, an ability to take raw materials and transform them into valuable goods. The last few years we’ve seen a transition take place, with manufacturing on the decline, but the potential is still here, and it’s enormous.
In 2006 when I was looking at founding the company I saw a sea of under-utilized production capacity in Ontario – the auto sector was slowing, and being an optical engineer I couldn’t miss signs like the 2005 closure of the Kodak factory, so I knew that in Toronto I would be able to find the skilled workforce I would need to carry out what was and remains a bold vision – an outright transformation of our manufacturing infrastructure in order to address the clean energy the needs of the 21st century.
So I came to Toronto to start a company to make solar panels, and these are not just any solar panels. I can say this without hyperbole: these are going to be the most cost-effective solar panels in the world, bar none, and in a few years we will be going toe-to-toe with coal power in terms of cost of electricity. If green technology isn’t your strong suit, here’s the take-away: Morgan Solar is going to be a big deal.
When the opportunity arose to place the factory downtown we took it. Why would I want a factory downtown, you might wonder? Well for one, our factory is also our laboratory, it’s where top scientists & engineers are solving hard problems, where new technologies are invented and products are developed. I wanted very much to be able attract top talent from all over the world, people who would prefer living in our vibrant downtown neighbourhoods, cycling to work instead of clogging our highways with more cars. And it’s not just the top minds who would benefit from a downtown location: I see a large working class urban population in this city who deserve real employment options other than the service sector. As Morgan Solar grows we’ll be in a position to offer working families good jobs with fair pay, accessible from the TTC. I think there is a nobility in building things. This is something economists & urban planners are starting to discover as well, and building green technologies like ours is something that the hard working residents of this city will be able to feel very good about.
So that’s it – I put the factory downtown because I care about this city, and I think that for the city’s long term economic sustainability it needs a diversity of industries. Toronto is a financial powerhouse, we have creative film & entertainment industry, a robust service sector; but I see a real lack of manufacturing jobs, the kind of jobs that can make a city’s working class get ahead.
To be clear: I don’t dispute the developers rights to do what they will with the land they own, and if council chooses to rezone the property then that’s fine. But right now, at this moment, the city needs to be clear about what its priorities are.
How much money does the city spend to attract jobs here in the first place, especially green jobs, and how much sense does this re-zoning make in the context of all that effort? Let’s face it, a city can only prosper so much by selling itself more houses, and there’s no shortage of those as more developments go up every other day, but a city – this city – can genuinely thrive by selling the world solar panels.
I encourage you to take a look beyond the short term, consider the broader picture, and think about what’s at stake for the urban population you represent: If the land is not rezoned at this time, if the city locks this land down as an employment land, then in a few years we will be in a position to buy the buildings ourselves. What would we do with it? We would redevelop it as a high tech campus where we would employ a lot of people. This may sound grandiose, but it’s not.
We’re still a start-up & we have a lot of work in front of us – that much is true. We’re not Google yet, we’re not RIM or Microsoft yet, but we will be. The best I evidence I can give as to how big Morgan Solar is going to be in the coming years is the following:
The one company in the world who has spent more dollars on renewable energy projects than any other, that is currently building a large enough pipeline of projects to offset over 40 coal fired power plants, is a company called Iberdrola. To date they have made a single bet on new solar energy technology. That one bet that Iberdrola made was on us: Morgan Solar. They don’t own stock in any other company that develops solar technology. They invested in us because when they saw our technology, when they took a close look at it with the benefit of all their expertise and experience, they realized that what we have is something truly revolutionary. They saw we were in a position to change the world in a meaningful way, and they have invested on a scale to match.
Toronto has seen a lot of condo development lately. It’s a great place to live, but we need places to work as well. Morgan Solar will be fine whatever happens today, but the decision on whether or not our company remains here to prosper and grow and realize this vision of a high tech campus producing world changing technology stitched into the fabric of Toronto depends entirely on how Council votes on this matter.
John Paul Morgan
If you want to lend moral support to this issue please come out to the public consultation on Ordnance Street rezoning, or even better, contact the city clerk and ask for an opportunity to speak. The meeting where this will be discussed is the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting on Wed May 19 9:30am – 11:30am,Toronto City Hall, Committee Room 1.
The contact information for those wishing to speak is below.
Planning and Growth Management Committee
10th floor, West Tower, City Hall
City Clerk’s Office firstname.lastname@example.org 416-392-8016