As an entrepreneur in the transportation industry, Joel MacKay understands the power of location. That’s why, when it came time to scale his business, MacKay chose to do it in Vaughan, Ont.
The ease of mobility to and from Vaughan helped draw in MacKay, who runs Mactrans Logistics, a third-party transportation logistics services company. Plenty of other businesses have likewise flocked to Vaughan for its proximity to major highways, rail systems, and Toronto Pearson International Airport, the country’s busiest. “A lot of our customers and suppliers are here,” says MacKay, whose clients include corporate giants such as Magna International, Grand & Toy, and Weber Grills. “It’s good for business to be able to meet with them easily, and have them come to our location.”
While the fluid transportation corridors certainly help bring companies to Vaughan—which landed the No. 1 spot on our ranking of Canada’s Most Lucrative Places for Business—it’s the affluent, rapidly growing consumer base that buoys their business. In the 26 years since gaining city status, Vaughan’s population has ballooned 190% to 320,530. Since Mactrans posted up in Vaughan in 2009, hotels, restaurants, and office spaces have sprouted up in the once-vacant stretches of land surrounding the company’s headquarters. “It’s growing like crazy,” says MacKay, himself a resident of nearby Bolton, Ont. (Mactrans has mirrored the rise of the city, with revenue up 160% from 2010 to 2015, placing it No. 330 on the 2016 PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.)
The flurry of construction is a result not just of the rise in population, but of the buying power of the folks who move to the “City Above Toronto,” as it’s colloquially known. The average household income in Vaughan is $120,631, compared to $76,000 country-wide, suggesting residents have plenty of disposable cash to spend on shopping, eating out, and other luxuries.
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“Every year we’re seeing our business grow, and I expect that to continue,” says Marco Pezzelli, owner of the Avlyn Gardens restaurant and event space in Vaughan’s historic Kleinburg neighbourhood. “Part of the reason is that the area’s becoming more business-friendly, but also because of the influx of people,” says Pezzelli, who’s owned restaurants and retail businesses in Vaughan for the last 20 years.
While Kleinburg’s heritage charm has long made it destination for tourists, more and more residents are calling the area home. “When I first moved to Kleinburg, if you sat in the backyard and the wind was blowing the right way, we not only got to hear the cows, but you could smell them” recalls long-time Vaughan resident Louise Zembal. That was more than 30 years ago, when everyone on the strip knew each other’s name. “That’s changed, says Zembal, chair of the neighbourhood BIA, and owner of Hawthorne House clothing and gift boutique. “And that’s not a bad thing.”
Rapid development beginning in the late 1980s originally helped attract businesses in the construction and engineering realm to the emerging city. As the population climbed at a speedy clip, the local industrial landscape diversified. The 14 Vaughan-headquarterd firms on the 2016 PROFIT 500 represent sectors like telecommunications, marketing, furniture distribution, and freight shipping, to name a few. Today, Vaughan is home to 11,370 businesses that together employ more than 200,000 people—not bad for a mid-sized city. (It’s also the site of Canada’s Wonderland.)
Vaughan mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua cites low business tax rates and housing prices that look affordable next to nearby Toronto’s as the city’s main attractions. But the municipality also has a number of incentives and programs that support companies at every growth stage, particularly when they’re scaling up. The Vaughan International Commercialization Centre (VICC), for example, helps local companies grow globally. Most government efforts to support new companies tend to focus on incubation or acceleration, leaving an unmet need for scale-up help says Raphael Costas, an economic development policy advisor at the City of Vaughan. “We’re looking for companies that have an established product with strong sales, but they need to take it to the next level.”
The program also helps foreign companies find workspace and access legal and immigration services needed to get their business off the ground. That makes sense in a city with strong international ties—nearly half of Vaughan’s current population was born outside of Canada, and the oft quoted stat is that residents collectively speak 99 different languages. The city also recently launched its Community Improvement Plan, which offers developers financial incentives to build office space at Weston Road and Highway 7, the intersection at the centre of the city’s new downtown. The program is meant to help intensify the area with new and growing businesses.
That kind of concentration is precisely what growing cities strive for, according to Bevilacqua. “What’s really important in creating a dynamic business location is to understand that people are drawn to places where there are other businesses,” he says. “You need to create critical mass.”
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