The geography of core employment

The concept of "core employment" was introduced in the 2015 Neptis report Planning for Prosperity.[1] Core employment consists of jobs in traded or tradable industries that bring revenues and income into the region and drive its growth, such as manufacturing or traded services. Core employment is distinct from population-related employment, which serves local residents, for example, personal services or retail. Core employment tends to cluster spatially, while population-related employment follows dispersed residential patterns.

Between 2006 and 2016, core employment in the GGH grew by more than 75,000 jobs. The share of jobs in the core employment category relative to total job numbers, however, fell between 2006 and 2016, from 69 percent to 62 percent. Although there was a net gain in core employment between 2006 and 2016, the net figure masks the decline following the 2008 financial crisis.[2] In 2011, core employment levels were still below 2006 levels. Only since 2011 have employment gains reached and then surpassed pre-2008 employment levels. During the crisis, however, non-core employment growth was less affected, which explains the decreased share of core employment relative to total employment in 2016. (See Map 1: Core Employment, GGH, 2016, and Map 2: Core Employment Change, GGH, 2006-2016.)

Table 5: Total and Core Employment with a Usual Place of Work, GGH, 2006 and 2016




Change (2006-2016)

Core employment




Total employment




Core employment as a share of total





In the 2015 report Planning for Prosperity, we introduced some key elements of the GGH's economic landscape: megazones and suburban knowledge-intensive districts (SKIDs).

  • Megazones are large, contiguous multijurisdictional areas focused on core employment. Three were identified: the Pearson airport megazone, Tor-York West around Highways 400 and 407, and Tor-York East around Highways 404 and 407.
  • SKIDs are suburban areas that have concentrations of higher-skilled employment. Five were identified: Waterloo, Sheridan, Meadowvale, Airport (within the Airport Megazone), and Markham (within the Tor-York East megazone).

These areas remain relevant in describing the economic geography of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. (See Map 3: Core Employment with Megazones and SKIDs, 2016, and Map 4: Core Employment Change, 2006-2016, with Megazones and SKIDs.)

The economic geography of the GGH is characterized by clustered core employment. Downtown Toronto is the dominant, densest job concentration, with 413,000 core jobs in 2016. Other dense, compact clusters include North York City Centre, Hamilton downtown, and Kitchener and Waterloo downtowns. Also dominant are the three megazones, which together account for more than 460,000 core jobs.

Between 2006 and 2016, Downtown Toronto experienced significant, concentrated growth - adding about 67,000 new core jobs. Other core job growth has occurred at the urban edges of the region, north of Highway 407.

Overall, the Place of Work data for 2006 to 2016 show a dramatic shift in the geography of employment.Despite net core employment gains overall for the region, core employment declined in certain areas. In the City of Toronto, with the exception of a few small areas, core job loss dominated inner suburban areas. Oshawa, Hamilton centre, Waterloo Region, St. Catharines and Welland, and areas south of the QEW also lost core jobs.

In Planning for Prosperity, we noted that in key areas - the SKIDs and Downtown Toronto - core employment grew considerably between 2001 and 2011 (adding 42,290 and 35,490 jobs, respectively), while the megazones (excluding SKIDs) saw modest growth (adding 3,080 jobs). Each of the five SKIDs saw positive growth, with the Airport SKID, Meadowvale, and Waterloo expanding by about 10,000 core jobs each.

Table 6: Core Employment by Employment Area, GGH 2006 and 2016




Change 2006-2016

Downtown Toronto








Tor-York West Megazone




Airport Megazone (incl. SKID)




Tor-York East Megazone (incl. SKID)








Airport Megazone w/o SKID




Tor-York East Megazone w/o SKID
































Rest of the GGH









Between 2006 and 2016, a significant shift occurred. Three of the SKIDs lost core employment or remained stable, while the Airport SKID experienced only modest growth. Meadowvale continued to attract core employment, expanding by almost 7,000 jobs. Overall, core employment in the SKIDs grew by a modest 8,500 jobs in the last 10 years. Meanwhile the megazones (excluding SKIDs) have experienced a net loss of about 6,750 jobs. Table 6 shows 2016 core employment and changes between 2006 and 2016 for these areas.

But the most remarkable aspect of the spatial shift is the rapid growth and concentration of core jobs in Downtown Toronto, which attracted more than 67,000 core jobs between 2006 and 2016 (and a total of 85,600 if population-related jobs are included).

This substantial shift in the geography of jobs has significant implications for planning, discussed in Chapter 5.

MAP 1: Core Employment, GGH, 2016

Map 2:  Core Employment Change, GGH, 2006-2016

Map 3:  Core Employment, GGH with Megazones and SKIDs, 2016

Map 4:  Core Employment Change, GGH with Megazones and SKIDs, 2006-2016


[1] Blais, Planning for Prosperity, 2015.

[2] Data from Planning for Prosperity showed a decline in core employment of about 110,000 jobs between 2006 and 2011 for the GGH, following gains of roughly the same amount in the preceding five-year period.