The next best place for both business investment and superb quality of life is a small, rural community located in the heartland of south-central Ontario, known as the County of Brant. With a moderate population size of approximately 36,000 people and the convenience of having a major Provincial 400-series highway running throughout, the municipality is poised to meet the rising demand on business and residential fronts.
The full potential of Brant County has yet to be realized as there are many land and investment opportunities still available. We spoke with General Manager of Economic Development and Strategic Investments, David Johnston about this burgeoning County.
The County of Brant was reorganized from a two-tier system to a one-tier system in 1999. At that point, the constituent municipalities were dissolved. The County took over all local responsibilities that would have customarily been handled under a single-tier government. This is different from other regions in Ontario, such as the municipalities of Kitchener, Waterloo or Durham that retain two levels of government.
“With this new system, we discovered a new strength within the consolidation of the municipalities in terms of the ability to borrow money on specific projects and, in particular, the ability to finance infrastructure,” explains Johnston.
In 2010, there was a real concern about the shifting tax base from one that was balanced to one that was heavily dominated by residential. As Council did not wish the area to become merely a bedroom community, it invested in infrastructure and the acquisition of land. It then developed a business park adjacent to Highway 403, which is a main commercial artery in the province. With links to Buffalo and Detroit, it is convenient for logistics and the distribution of products.
“As I like to tell potential investors, ‘If you were any closer to the 403, you would be dodging traffic.’”
New projects and developments are ongoing with an emphasis on the advanced manufacturing and warehousing/logistics sectors. As previously noted, the County developed a business park comprising 140 developable acres. One of the tenants is adidas Group, who constructed a one million square foot building.
The County has been extremely proactive in its quest to attract clients to the park, which has generated success. To that end, there are only 20 acres left for sale in the park.
Johnston believes that the dedicated workforce is what makes Brant County a great place for business. Another draw is the start-up costs and development charges that are lower than those typical of Ontario municipalities. Land pricing in all of the business parks are economical compared to other areas of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). All of this is combined with an attractive lifestyle.
Yet another attractive asset in the municipality is the local municipal airport, which has the capabilities to accommodate corporate jets. This provides an ease of access for business executives to fly directly into the County to visit their establishments or to conduct business as appropriate. Consequently, not having to contend with traffic jams if flown into another international or regional airport is favourable.
“Everyone talks about lifestyle, but the fact of the matter is that it’s the best of both worlds. You are close enough to Toronto and the large urban area. If you want to go in for a hockey, football or baseball game, perhaps the theatre, it’s only about an hour away. If you desire a more tranquil country lifestyle, it’s there for the taking as it is still a fairly rural area.”
Brant County has a full card of local attractions and festivals, like the Paris Fall Fair, St. George Applefest and Springtime in Paris, all of which continue to grow in popularity each year. The municipality possesses an extensive trail network for bicyclists, hikers and runners. On Saturdays, there are almost as many bicycles as there are cars because one can cycle from the Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo area to Hamilton on a continuous trail system.
Available for a morning coffee, lunch or dinner, all of the areas in the County have eclectic establishments to provide such services. There are also certain spots within the County that portray a commanding view of the Grand River and its varied wildlife and birds such as bald eagles and blue herons. The river is also a popular spot for fly fishing.
The advantage of being on the fringe of the GTA is evident as population growth has been significant in this small County with a population of 36,000. More and more people are attracted to the area.
“There are a lot of people who are keen to live in the area. Housing prices are certainly lower than you would find closer to Toronto, and we have quite a number of residential subdivisions that are underway. There seems to be a steady demand for residential units in the area.”
Through the support of existing and new companies the County has created 1,400 jobs over the past four years. This job creation has a direct link to the County’s investment in infrastructure. Once this investment was made, things began to change, and the County’s proximity to Highway 403 certainly helped. All companies, whether new or existing, were attracted to the area as a result.
“We are finding that people come here because the start-up costs are perhaps a little less, but they also have the opportunity to buy enough acreage so that when they build or expand, they won’t have to move. For example, adidas bought enough land that they could add another 400,000 square feet to the facility and still be fine without having to relocate or worry about having enough land to do more. That is a huge key with the people and businesses that are being attracted.”
The desire of businesses to be able to make that initial investment and then expand upon it is a difficult balance from Brant County’s point of view. The County’s profit is not necessarily in the land sale, but derived from the ongoing taxes it receives, and that can be as important as the production of jobs.
To attract new business, Brant County has recruited its existing business community to be ambassadors for the area, and it has had great success with business leaders who keep an ear out for companies that might be looking to relocate or expand. “They are very good at reporting such leads to us.” Whether a company requires a new building or has extra space available for rent, Brant County can help.
These efforts have created more jobs in the area and generated more wealth. The County has also invested in promotional materials and attended trade shows to market to the larger real estate community. The goal is to let the world know that Brant County is here and has a great product.
The County hosts “Salute to Brant Business”, an annual event that started over a decade ago with roughly forty business people. For this year’s ceremonies, there were one hundred and seventy attendees, an indication of the mounting success of the County’s efforts.
Johnston recognizes that Council has been prudent to make the investment in infrastructure in an area on the urban fringes and hopes that doesn’t change. “Assuming that continues, in a twenty-five-year period, I can see a quadrupling of the amount of industrial assessment which again relates directly to the proximity to the 403. Also, a very positive business atmosphere is being created.”
Resulting from its investment in infrastructure, the County, in conjunction with adidas Group, won a prestigious real estate award this past April from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks.
“If you are in the right location, the investment in infrastructure is critical for success. Without that investment, you cannot talk to industry. It is that simple. I believe our Council has taken that to heart and are prepared to make that investment. Not all municipal councils are prepared to do that, and I respect those that decide not to because it is certainly a calculated gamble. But, in our case, it seems to be working out very well.”