The City of Brockville
The City of Brockville, Ontario, is one of Canada’s most well-known historic centres. Visitors from around the world come to enjoy the scenic 1,000 Islands tours, explore the historic sites and museums, and attend the city’s renowned theatre. Yet Brockville is also a city that constantly evolves to meet the demands of today’s business landscape. This proactive approach and willingness to embrace change is what makes Brockville one of Canada’s fastest growing economic hubs.
Location, Location, Location
Location has played a key role in Brockville’s economic development for over 200 years. The city, then called Elizabethtown, was first established in 1787 in what was then called Upper Canada by British-American war veteran William Buell. In 1812, in honor of General Isaac Brock, the village was renamed ‘Brockville’. It became the first incorporated municipality in Ontario in 1832.
The City of Brockville sits midway between two of Canada’s major economic centres, Toronto and Montreal. Brockville’s access to the St. Lawrence River played a key role in the early days of the city’s development. Manufacturing plants found it favorable to locate in the city, as products could be easily transported from across Canada and the Northern U.S. by steamship. Brockville later became a terminus for the Grand Trunk Railway, bringing Canadian railway service into the area and further encouraging manufacturing and production facilities to locate in the area. The city now acts as a merger point for the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways.
During the latter half of the 20th century, Brockville became home to many of Ontario’s major highways, including the 401, the 29, and the 2. Brockville now sits beside two international bridges, and is easily accessible through Interstate 81. The nearby Montreal seaport and highly active Brockville-1,000 Islands Regional Tackaberry Airport allow businesses to transport goods quickly and easily.
“These assets, along with sharing a border with the states, provide a great location for business,” explains Brockville’s Director of Economic Development David Paul, “The value chain potential here is very strong – manufacturers are easily able to receive and ship product through a variety of transportation networks.”
Some refer to Brockville as a ‘Fortune 500 Community’, as the city has had at one time more Fortune 500 companies per capita located within its borders than any other municipality in Canada. The majority of these businesses fall within the industrial and manufacturing sectors.
Big Business and New Money-Makers
Brockville has always been a predominantly manufacturing-based city. Multinational corporations such as Coca-cola, Procter & Gamble, Phillips Cable and Black & Decker have all located large-scale production facilities within the City. Yet, as with many Canadian cities, Brockville is facing the global exodus of major manufacturing businesses out of North America and into cheap-labour nations.
However, Brockville proves resilient. Although some multinational corporations have left, many small-medium size businesses have entered into the city and thrived.
“Brockville’s vacancy rate is the lowest it’s been in over 20 years,” says Paul, “Manufacturing is still a very strong sector here. The types of jobs and production changes, but there are still profitable operations in the plants.”
Pharmaceuticals also play a major role in Brockville’s economy. Trillium Health Care manufactures products for drug companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Brockville is also home to three 3M facilities, one producing occupational health and safety products, the other manufacturing tape and finally a research and development operation.
Brockville’s small businesses and downtown core are becoming more prominent in the city’s economic landscape. Brockville’s Business Improvement Area (BIA) consists of over 300 unique businesses within the downtown core.
“We’re going through this great transition period; the engines of wealth are shifting,” Paul explains, “There’s a lot of residential relocation, a surge in entrepreneurship, and our tourism sector is shifting towards a destination status location.”
“The downtown is a big factor in spurring this transformation. There’s a big interest in establishing a ‘campus’ of attractions in the area.”
In terms of employment, Brockville sits at the top of its category. In a study conducted by the Conference Board of Canada from 2005-2012, Brockville was one of only two mid-size communities (the other being Wood Buffalo, Alberta) with an annual employment growth rate of over 5%, representing 4500 newly created jobs.
Brockville is currently home to six of Canada’s best Managed Companies, revealing the quality of business the City attracts. In 2013, the Royal Bank of Canada presented the City of Brockville with the Economic Development Achievement of the Year Award for the municipality’s comprehensive master plan for the development of its waterfront.
Much of Brockville’s profits are derived from the City’s large tourism industry. The 1,000 Islands attract boaters, divers, and sightseers from across the globe. Brockville sits within the Frontenac Arch Biosphere (also referred to as ‘The Thousand Islands’ Biosphere), offering adventurers a unique landscape to explore.
In July 2014, Brockville opened the first underwater sculpture park in Canada. This monumental Centeen Park features five statues created by local artist and retired teacher Dave Sheridan. The city expects to have about 60 pieces installed into Centeen Park within the next few years.
“We have a large diver population – over 50,000 recorded diver visits per year! The new sculpture park will help take some pressure off of the historic shipwrecks in our area,” says Paul.
Brockville is also preparing to open its new Aquatarium later this year. The 26,000 square foot Discovery Hall allows families to share in underwater learning experiences. Events and programs will be changed regularly, making each visit a new adventure.
The city is also well-known for its dynamic arts community. Brockville is home to one of the best designed mid-sized historic theatres in Canada, and has a grand reputation with performers and audience members alike.
The Youth Entrepreneurship Program
Many small to mid-size communities across Canada are facing a similar challenge: youth migration. An increasing number of young people choose to leave their home towns for careers within larger urban cores. Although Brockville possesses a growing entrepreneurial ‘Zoomer’ population, the City is actively focusing its efforts on retaining and attracting younger groups.
Brockville’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program aims to inspire high school and college age young people to consider entrepreneurship as a career. The City’s ‘Summer Company’ program provides students with a $3,000 grant and mentorship opportunities to start and grow their own business. On average, 18 students are accepted into the program per year.
“We’ve discovered that many students continue running their business during the school year,” says Paul, “Some turn it into a gainful career.”
This year, the Youth Entrepreneurship program began a ‘Starter Company’ initiative. This year-long program assists young people up to the age of 29 start and establish their own business within the community.
“A balanced demography in a community means vitality,” Paul adds, “The more youth entrepreneurship programs we can initiate, the better the Brockville will become.”
All photos by Stephanie Dunbar