In the early part of the twentieth century, Peterborough, Ontario – 90 minutes northeast of Toronto – was a manufacturing town that was home to hundreds of industries. Thousands of people worked at General Electric, Quaker Oats, Peterborough Canoe, farm equipment manufacturer Alfa-Laval, Purity Packaging, popcorn manufacturer Poppycock, timepiece manufacturer Westclox, woollen mill Whitaker’s, Outboard Marine.
Today, while General Electric and Quaker Oats (QTG, a division of PepsiCo), remain key players in the local economy, the region’s businesses continue to evolve, grow and adapt to the changing market forces, as has Peterborough & the Kawarthas as a whole.
The first city in Canada to have electric streetlights in 1884 and one of the first cities in Canada to have city-wide Bell Fibre Internet network setup over 120 years later, Peterborough & the Kawarthas is a place that embraces technological advancements and innovation. The city has a strong advanced manufacturing sector whose more than fifty-five companies create a variety of consumer and industrial products.
Beyond manufacturing, the sectors of Peterborough & the Kawarthas’ economy are as diverse as the region’s unique city, rural and cottage country landscapes. “The region has strength in aerospace, agriculture, tourism and water technologies,” explains Rhonda Keenan, President and CEO of Peterborough Economic Development.
Peterborough Economic Development is a not-for-profit organization and the lead agency responsible for economic development and tourism services for the City and County of Peterborough. It also operates a Business Advisory Centre for small businesses looking to start and grow in the region, with the support of the Government of Ontario.
“We are the lead organization for economic growth, attracting the talent, innovation and investments that create desirable jobs while being an irresistible place to live and visit. We market the region to visitors and assist small and large businesses in any capacity to allow them to grow, attract new talent and expand,” explains Ms. Keenan. This is not a stereotypical blue-collar community, and it has a higher than average proportion of knowledge-based workers.
The 18- to 34-year-old age group is a fast-growing population segment. There is an increasing pool of young professionals and talent coming from Sir Sandford Fleming College, Trent University (the #1 primarily undergraduate university in Ontario according to MacLean’s 2016 University Rankings) and the Seneca College School of Aviation – a relatively new development. There are over 11,000 full-time students within the community, and the regions industries are well-supported by its educational institutions. At Fleming College the 87,000-square-foot Kawartha Trades and Technology Centre was recently constructed with state-of-the-art sustainable shop facilities, smart-wired classrooms and labs with the newest technologies.
Youth are also well-supported to pursue entrepreneurship in the community. Peterborough Economic Development’s Business Advisory Centre offers two programs that offer young entrepreneurs the opportunity to make money and learn valuable skills through developing and operating a business: Summer Company and Starter Company. With the support of the Government of Ontario, youth are connected with training, mentorship and funding of up to $5000.
Unique to the area, there is also FastStart – a modern entrepreneurial training partnership for youth ages 18-29 between Trent University, Fleming College and the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster. FastStart creates links between students and youth eager to pioneer new initiatives, and those with experience to help foster growth.
The combined population of the City and County comes to about 140,000 with a slightly higher than average median age, including vibrant communities members both young and old. Peterborough Economic Development sees strength in having such an active community of seniors. Ms. Keenan notes that it is wonderful how active they remain in participating in the local community as business owners, passionate volunteers and mentors. The community at large is generous with their time and expertise and dedicated to making Peterborough & the Kawarthas a wonderful place to be.
“Peterborough is very welcoming and supportive for new Canadians. The New Canadians Centre works very hard to welcome newcomers and integrate them into the local community.” The Peterborough Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) has the highest rate of immigrant entrepreneurship in the country at 36 percent.
Knowing how important small business and new ideas are for the local economy, Peterborough Economic Development has a strategic focus on creating a culture of start-ups and entrepreneurship. In 2015, Peterborough Economic Development brought together a core group of passionate local entrepreneurs and applied to Startup Canada to become a designated community within that network, culminating in the June 2015 launch of Startup Peterborough.
Startup Peterborough is an entrepreneur-led network bringing community business owners together and connecting them to a larger national network. And it has other benefits. “The designation puts us on the map as a place for entrepreneurs to thrive, knowing that there is support for them to start up and grow. The purpose of Startup Peterborough is about creating community connections, and it connects local, early-stage entrepreneurs with resources, funding and, most importantly, mentorship from established entrepreneurs in the community,” states Ms. Keenan.
Peterborough also has strong support for innovation and technology through organizations like the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster. The role of the Innovation Cluster is to foster an environment that allows for the growth of innovation and entrepreneurship through its youth engagement programming, access to angel investment, as well as advisory and incubation services.
There is strong community support to help growing small businesses through the PED, the local Chambers of Commerce, Startup Peterborough, Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster, Peterborough Community Futures and dozens of other community organizations and institutions, making Peterborough & the Kawarthas an ideal place to start a business.
“It’s a great ecosystem of education institutions, community organizations and mentors to support entrepreneurship. Peterborough and the Kawarthas has always been a great place to do business, but I think now, in particular, the synergies and energy of the Peterborough StartUp community and its resources are recognized outside of the Peterborough area. It is exciting.”
Another new program being offered by PED (with the support of the Government of Ontario) is the Business Launch Assistance, Support & Training (B.L.A.S.T.) Pilot Program. In Ontario and Canada there is a focus on supporting youth entrepreneurs and youth-helmed start-up companies, but what was discovered was that there was a need to provide assistance and support to those entrepreneurs who are over the age of thirty. The B.L.A.S.T. program is in a pilot phase at this point – and has been a success to date as it works with individuals, training them for businesses they want to start.
“One of the nice things about this program is that they have online training that allows participants to have some self-directed learning in addition to one-on-one consultations.” At the end of the program, entrepreneurs who have participated will have a completed business plan and will be eligible to compete for one of sixteen micro-grants of $5,000. Eligible entrepreneurs will also be connected with a mentor from the local business community.
“We hope that with the success of this that we can carry this program forward and continue to have funding to offer it. We have opportunities for sixteen to be funded, but certainly more than that are going through the program, just to do that self-directed learning and taking part in the workshops in order to be able to give their business a great launching point.”
Entrepreneur-owned businesses have always been key players here, whether in agriculture or advanced manufacturing. Some key sectors such as water and environmental technologies are well positioned to grow with links to colleges, universities and local research facilities.
Businesses stay and relocate to the region because it is an affordable and accessible place to do business. Peterborough & the Kawarthas are not overly developed, nor is the area overpriced. It is relatively unspoiled, and the rates for taxes, utilities and industrial space are some of the best in Ontario. This makes it very competitive, and it gains from its proximity to the Toronto and Ottawa markets.
Small businesses add to the fabric of the local community, while the downtown area has a unique and eclectic group of companies and entrepreneurs, offering many different experiences and an incredible culinary scene. The region also offers a range of desirable and convenient amenities.
Peterborough Economic Development is marketing the region’s unique food scene. Local chefs and restaurateurs are committed to incorporating locally-sourced ingredients into the food created at downtown restaurants and resorts throughout the region. Artisan foods and artful chefs have locals and visitors alike savouring the experience long after they leave the table.
Ms. Keenan points out that tourism is a significant economic driver, with an average of 3.4 million visitors annually. Those visitors are infusing close to $358 million into the local economy. There is an impressive variety and volume of unique experiences for everyone to enjoy. Want to get outside? Visitors enjoy boating, paddling and fishing along the Trent-Severn Waterway, one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world. The region’s rolling hills and scenic vistas are best enjoyed through a variety of outdoor experiences such as cycling, hiking and cross country skiing. Soak in the culture at Petroglyphs Provincial Park which contains Canada’s largest known concentration of Aboriginal rock carvings. Check out the Peterborough Lift Lock – the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock and the world’s largest collection of paddled watercraft at the Canadian Canoe Museum. Be entertained at an outdoor theatre, with live music at a downtown venue or check out one of the 600 different festivals and events held annually.
Peterborough combines the best of urban, rural and cottage country lifestyles. Commute times are amongst the shortest in Ontario – an average of twenty-two minutes. From a location standpoint, Peterborough has access to major urban centres via air or highway. It is 125 kilometres from Toronto along highways 115 and 401.
Many professionals and entrepreneurs are redefining what a successful life means here as they find balance between making a living and making a life. “The work/life balance is particularly important in this area because everybody is busy, everybody is connected, and Peterborough & the Kawarthas allow you to do both. We have great infrastructure but you also have some time for your personal life, to be outdoors.”