City of Barrie
Approximately 40 minutes north of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) surrounding the shores of Lake Simcoe’s beautiful Kempenfelt Bay is the multifaceted city of Barrie. Well known for its incredible four-season recreational activities from sailing and windsurfing to alpine skiing and ice fishing, Barrie was also tagged several years ago as Canada’s fastest growing metropolitan area. Barrie’s population has grown from just 45,000 people back in the 1980s to approximately 140,000 today.
Barrie’s growth has now moderated to a more manageable rate, but the city is certainly still poised for expansion over the next 20 years. The ‘Places to Grow Act’, the provincial government’s legislated framework for long-term growth planning and infrastructure renewal, named Barrie as the only ‘urban growth centre’ north of Toronto and projects a population of 210,000 by the year 2031. To accommodate the required growth, Barrie expanded its boundaries in 2010 for the 10th time since 1954 by annexing 5,770 acres from the neighbouring town of Innisfil. Intensification – building up rather than out – will be key to reaching targets particularly in the former built boundary. This intensification shift is already evident along Barrie’s waterfront where numerous mixed–use and condominium buildings have been built in the past few years or are currently under construction.
Coupled with the population targets is the associated job growth required to support the increased resident base. This is where Hany Kirolos, Director of Business Development and the Invest Barrie team come into play. “The business growth targets for the city are to supply 101,000 jobs by 2031. That’s approximately 33,000 additional jobs from where we are now. It’s ambitious, but we’re up for the challenge,” says Kirolos.
Kirolos believes Barrie contains the ideal environment for intensified business growth. Despite the economic challenges felt a few years ago, Barrie’s business community continued to thrive. “The first and probably most prominent advantage of our business community is that it is extremely well diversified,” says Kirolos, “Where other communities that were heavily reliant on one segment of the economy suffered tremendous losses, our local economy faired reasonably well. Small and medium sized enterprises make up the majority of our business base which is quite varied in everything from advanced manufacturing, health care, financial institutions and related service, commercial services, and retail, to a growing new cluster in data and IT security. This gives us tremendous advantage to meet whatever future opportunities may come.”
A number of Barrie businesses are competing on the international stage. Southmedic, a surgical instrument manufacturer and MacLean Engineering a mining equipment manufacturer, are just two of many Barrie companies exporting products worldwide. The City itself has participated on missions to China and Brazil, with plans to continue to develop its Foreign Direct Investment portfolio to help local companies expand into foreign markets and attract foreign investment to the city. “In the past, investors from Europe, Mainland China, the U.S., and Latin America have gone to Toronto for investment, now Barrie’s value proposition is far more compelling. An industrial acre in The Greater Toronto Area is about $800,000 to $900,000 per acre. In Barrie, it’s about $200,000. The development and investment opportunities here are much more attractive,” explains Kirolos.
Barrie’s close proximity to Toronto and transportation network, including access to major highways, their own railway and own international airport, also help build Barrie and their existing businesses a platform from which to compete. “The airport provides us with a great asset to not only attract aviation and aerospace but to provide service to just in time manufacturing distribution and logistics companies,” says Kirolos, “If a company needs to ship anything 500 km or more in any direction, rail becomes extremely cost competitive to trucking, we are lucky to be able to offer that alternative.”
Barrie’s lifestyle is probably the most obvious explanation for Barrie’s explosive population growth over the past few decades. It is simply a great place to live and recreational activities in the area are endless. Georgian College and their University Partnership Centre offer quality post-secondary education including numerous degree granting programs. The downtown is being revitalized into a cultural hub which includes an art gallery, centre for performing arts, array of dining and shopping establishments, and the City is currently working to attract a University to the downtown core. “Barrie has one of the youngest populations in Canada with a median age of just 37 years old. We have the amenities of a large urban centre and recreation and leisure activities that attract young families and business people who want to be on the boat or on the trails within five minutes of leaving the office,” Kirolos, a sailor himself explains, “Barrie truly is a place where business and pleasure mingle.”
Barrie is certainly no stranger to growth, and is well equipped to handle the pressures associated with major development and expansion. An extensive planning process is well underway to determine the best use for the annexed lands, ensure that required infrastructure and services are provided, and that intensification targets are met throughout the city. Barrie currently has everything that a business or resident could ask for, and those amenities and opportunities will only multiply as Barrie continues to grow for many years to come.