On the shorelines of Lake Huron, the County of Huron is situated in Southwestern Ontario, easily accessible from surrounding major markets across the province as well as the bordering United States. With a history in hospitality, Huron County is a hub for not only the tourism sector, but is also a leading player in agriculture, manufacturing, and new technologies.
The creative economy – a nurturer of small, technology-based companies – is one of the fastest growing sectors in Huron County. Often smaller startup businesses, those in the creative economy are local contributors that attract many newcomers to the area, particularly young families. More and more knowledge-based businesses are operating in Huron County, bringing more economic activity and innovation to the region.
Mike Pullen, Senior Economic Development Officer with the County of Huron, told The Canadian Business Journal, “Rather than just looking at traditional large industrial plants, we’re building on what we already have in these smaller, creative economy startups, one business at a time, which all contribute to the larger economy in a big way.”
Many smaller businesses are conducting global business while enjoying the benefits of a more rural community. Huron County’s business climate is a welcoming and vibrant environment for entrepreneurial new businesses.
One example of such a business is Virtual High School, North America’s largest online high school, which set up shop in Bayfield, a quaint tourism village within Huron County. Another example, Iceculture, based in Hensall, creates and distributes ice sculptures worldwide. Both organizations are global operators. The industrial manufacturing base has always been a major strength for the region, given that more than 180 manufacturers operate in Huron County. The sector is one of the largest employers in the County, with about one in eight workers employed in the industry.
“These businesses are here because the lifestyle appeals to them. There is a real appeal to the people who work in the creative economy to live in this area because it’s a beautiful area, it’s close to the lake, and we have the picturesque countryside that inspires people in the creative industry,” Pullen detailed. “The high speed broadband infrastructure within Huron County is also a major factor in attracting and retaining high-tech and creative companies. By showcasing what we already have here, we hope to attract more likeminded businesses and entrepreneurs to the area.”
Welcoming the Wine Industry
Historically, agriculture and the agri-business have played a major role in Huron County. In fact, based on its number of farms, farmland acreage, and gross farm receipts, Huron County boasts the most agriculturally productive region in all of Ontario. This has led many agricultural specialists as well as new entrepreneurs to develop new advanced technologies for the industry. Such innovation means increased production and investment within the growing agricultural industry. As a result, many producers are on the leading edge of farming technologies, honing such technologies as GPS crop planting and computerized barn systems.
In Huron County, the agricultural industry goes hand in hand with the creative economy, combining the elements of agri-business, entrepreneurialism, and the tourism sector to develop a local viticulture industry.
“For the past three years, we’ve been doing climate and soil testing and we’ve worked with some of the leading consultants in viticulture throughout Canada,” Pullen explained. “We’ve proven that we have the climate to support a wine industry, to grow grapes commercially, and it’s a real push for us, so we’re looking at attracting small and large scale wineries to the area, which of course has a huge spinoff benefit. It brings more tourism income to the area and diversifies our agriculture base.
“We’ve done all the research; we’ve identified the varieties of grapes that will grow here. We’ve aligned ourselves with some of the best minds in the industry, so it’s all just ready to happen. The next step is to start promoting the opportunity to the right investors. We’re also working with local growers in our farming community and there is significant interest.”
Pullen noted the certain romance that comes with the wine industry. It brings many different aspects to the community, from wine tour visitors, to those who choose to stay long term, who then bring their business along with them. The local tourism and hospitality sector is home to charming attractions, picturesque landscapes, and a popular shoreline. Regional theatre, art galleries, music festivals, cycling paths, hiking trails, and a bevy of cultural activities further the tourism experience available in Huron County.
Huron County offers exceptional work/life balance, where commuters can easily travel from their destinations, free from the stresses of traffic gridlock typically found in more urban centres. Residents enjoy the relaxed rural lifestyle and young family atmosphere offered in Huron County. As Pullen summarized, “There is a mentality that once you’re here in Huron County, you don’t want to leave.”