Windsor region leads nation in percentage of new business growth: StatsCan

Dave Waddell/The Windsor Star

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the U.S. border, the Windsor-Essex region enjoyed the largest percentage increase in Canada in its active business count.

The Windsor Census Metropolitan Area has seen an increase of 19.1 per cent from February 2020 to May 2022 according to Statistics Canada’s data for business openings and closings.

The area was one of only two CMAs to enjoy double-digit growth. Peterborough increased by 13.5 per cent while London was at 3.7, Kitchener-Waterloo 3.1 and Toronto 2.0.

“It’s very heartening to see things coming together and the surge to move forward after all the work that’s gone into making this happen,” said Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Rakesh Naidu.

“We’re seeing both organic growth and investment from outside the area. The population is growing and investors have confidence in the region in both what it is now, but also in what is coming over the next five years.”

In February 2020 the Windsor CMA counted 7,249 active business and that rose to 8,635 by May 2022. By comparison, Statistics Canada recorded 11,243 businesses in London in February 2020 and 11,664 by May 2022.

Naidu noted that the positive numbers have been generated without any impact from the NextStar battery plant and the supply chain for an entirely new automotive ecosystem in Southwestern Ontario.

The majority of the new businesses started in the past couple years have fewer than 10 employees, but the number of openings has produced net gains for Windsor month after month during the pandemic.

“Small and medium businesses are the real engines of the economy,” Naidu said.

“Windsor’s inherent strengths of a lower cost of living, proximity to the U.S. market, lower cost of doing business and a growing population is resonating with people.”

Workforce WindsorEssex CEO Justin Falconer said there’s been significant growth in the entrepreneurial sector of one to four employees in the logistics industry (79 new businesses), construction (45) and courier services (67). Professional service industries like real estate also saw an influx of over 800 agents during the housing boom during the pandemic.

In all, there was a net gain of 897 new businesses in the region between February 2020 and May 2022.

“Windsor has had a bit of a black eye on its reputation for not having female entrepreneurs and business start-ups,” Falconer said.

“This is an indicator that’s changing. Windsor-area residents started up businesses and two years later they’re still running those businesses.”

Atiyyah Ferouz is one of those female entrepreneurs who started her own businesses in November 2020.

A former operations manager at a Leamington greenhouse, Ferouz is now jetting around the globe for her cannabis consulting company Agcann Consulting Ltd.

“It was a bit of challenge starting a business in the early stages of COVID,” said Ferouz, who added the tutoring business Tutor Doctor to her portfolio two months ago.

“I craved some flexibility and more control over my schedule. I decided to give consulting a try, so I quit my full-time job.

“The biggest challenge for the first seven months was travelling. I spend about six months in Europe and six in Canada, but I have clients in South America and Australia also.”

Ferouz, a native of Trinidad who grew up in Mississauga, said she’s not surprised by the robust growth of new businesses locally.

“The entrepreneurial spirit in this community is very nurturing and they refer business to each other,” Ferouz said.

“It feels a very supportive community and a safe space to try and break out.

“The Windsor Essex Small Business Centre is also a fantastic resource. It’s another reason people are breaking out with all the grants and support being offered.”

Invest WindsorEssex CEO Stephen MacKenzie said the data is a testament to the resiliency of local residents and the collaborative approach area business organizations and political and education leaders have taken to building supports for entrepreneurs.

MacKenzie added he feels the surge in business formations also was impacted by people making different lifestyle choices and the emergence of opportunities to tap into the rapid technology growth locally in autonomous and electric vehicles.

“It (19 per cent) is a remarkable number,” MacKenzie said. “We have a resilient region. People are used to the ups and downs and they adjust.

“History has shown entrepreneurship and innovation rise during economic downturns. There are a lot of business start-up programs that have been put into place and they’re paying off.”