Which is more important to your site selection determination — (1) the most competitive corporate tax rate in the West, buttressed by a slew of national, provincial and local business-attraction incentives, or (2) an available infrastructure of workers and IT, particularly on the telecom side, that make launching operations a breeze? If they're equally important, then put Thunder Bay, Ontario, on your short list.
To the first point, Thunder Bay affords investors all the benefits of an Ontario location, including hiring and training grants and a range of tax credits and incentives, including the Ontario Research and Development Tax Credit, Innovation Tax Credit, Business Research Institute Tax Credit and Ontario Tax Exemption for Commercialization. More specific to Thunder Bay is the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and its six programs for investors in the food processing, digital media, clean technology and energy conservation and life sciences sectors as well as startups. The largest city in Northwestern Ontario, Thunder Bay is home to 121,000 people with a labor force of nearly 62,000 and is just 32 miles from the U.S. border. It's linked to the rest of the world by an international airport, a direct sea route to the Atlantic Ocean and a vast rail network spanning North America.
The second point — the IT and telecom infrastructure — is best defined by one of Thunder Bay's telecom leaders. Dan Topatigh is president and CEO of Tbaytel, formerly the Thunder Bay Telephone Company, and currently the region's municipally owned telecom provider. Few know the area's past and present business climate as well as Topatigh, who has some well-educated thoughts on what lies ahead for the region, too.
"The transition from a resource-based economy requires the right tools for new operations to flourish, and technology and connectivity are critical to support that transformation," he relates. "Thunder Bay has realized the importance of being a connected city and the benefits that come with it. Thunder Bay is one of only a handful of Canadian cities that has made it a priority to bring world class telecommunication network solutions to both its residents and businesses that support the local economy."
Five national fiber optic pipelines pass through Thunder Bay, bringing abundant security and back-up redundancy to the city. This bandwidth, combined with low building rents relative to other locations in North America, satisfy key requirements for operators of data centers, block chain enterprises and IT companies.
Tbaytel's wireless network in Thunder Bay is an LTE network that continues to post world class metrics for both access and reliability, Topatigh relates, and it boasts the largest coverage map of any carrier in Northern Ontario. Fiber connectivity continues to roll out as part of a multi-year plan that will see the Thunder Bay urban core virtually 100 percent covered by 2020.
Why does Tbaytel's ownership structure matter?
"Being 100 percent owned by the City of Thunder Bay ensures that our priorities are focused on Thunder Bay and regional expansion exclusively," notes Topatigh. "Our objectives are centered squarely on investing in infrastructure that supports economic growth in Northern Ontario and providing access to advanced, competitively priced telecommunication and entertainment solutions. Tbaytel is the only carrier able to provide a complete five-product bundle of telecommunication and security services to allow for the most cost-effective solutions. Tbaytel Fibre also allows us to be the only carrier capable of providing Gigabit services locally. In a world where all industries are expected to compete globally, it is critical to ensure that connectivity will not be a barrier to success."
Landscaped for Success
Former barriers to success have fallen by the wayside. Topatigh explains: "While geography, location and a less dense population once contributed to higher costs of doing business, location is quickly becoming less of an issue for businesses operating in many sectors due entirely to the fact that their operations are moving more towards digital and cloud-based solutions. While geography still clearly impacts some hard operating costs like transportation, for example, what is often overlooked is that businesses operating out of Thunder Bay often have lower operational costs for things like their occupancy costs."
"When it comes to operational success in our region," he continues, "the importance of forming partnerships in our business community should not be overlooked, especially when it comes to challenges presented by operational size, location or economies of scale. Factors that contribute to a successful business landscape include shared investment in innovation, technology, entrepreneurialism and research. Thunder Bay and communities across Northern Ontario are very fortunate to benefit from opportunities that are realized through the work of organizations like the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre and PARO Centre for Women's Enterprise, among others."
These partnerships and synergies are just as important to business success today and in the future as the telecom linkages connecting them, Topatigh points out.
"Industry sectors to watch in Thunder Bay include health care, which is continuing to grow," he illustrates. "Thunder Bay has a world class health care facility in our Regional Health Sciences Centre offering advanced cancer care and cardiac services guided by the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute." The future of healthcare in Thunder Bay and Northern Ontario is also supported through the education of new physicians and health professionals through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and community-engaged education and research through Lakehead University's Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research (CRaNHR).
Beyond health care, says Topatigh, "those businesses that contribute to the overall quality of life in Thunder Bay and Northern Ontario will continue to thrive here. A vibrant city rich in culture and unique experiences is largely what attracts new businesses, and the people who operate them, and Thunder Bay certainly has a lot going on that makes it attractive for those moving into the area."
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the Thunder Bay Community and Economic Development Commission. For more information, call (807) 625-3960 or visit www.gotothunderbay.ca.
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.