Creative Capital is IT World Canada’s series that examines the impact digital transformation is having to change the face of communities across Canada. We’re doing deep dives looking at the major tech hubs on the leading edge of the 21st-century knowledge economy. Our first five stories will focus on York Regions, exploring the densest ICT hub in Canada, its verticals, startups, and the factors contributing to its success.
You would think that being centrally located might be a low priority for solution providers. But if you poll some of the Computer Dealer News Top 100 Solution Providers, location is just as important as hiring top talent and partnering with the right vendor partners.
Smack dab in the middle of the Canada’s biggest market — the Greater Toronto Area — you’ll find approximately 20 per cent of the CDN Top 100 Solution Providers. This area is York Region and more than 50,000 businesses call their area home. Of that, 4,300 or so are in the information communications and technology (ICT) sector. Some of them are well known to the channel community such as CDN Top 5 Solution Providers Compugen and OnX.
According to 2016 Statistics Canada findings, York Region has the highest concentration of ICT firms in the country. And, the area ranks No. 2 overall in the total number of ICT operations. StatsCan looks at number of ICT business per 1,000 residents to determine this ranking.
This was not always the case for York Region. Paul Khawaja, the president of OnX, recalls a much different era.
“OnX has called the York Region home for over 30 years and we have seen a tremendous amount of change through evolution, expansion, and growth. I understand that when we first opened shop in this region, we were surrounded by farmers’ fields and suburbs,” said Khawaja. “Today OnX is surrounded by both our clients and partners, who find the location to be convenient, easy to access and relatively easy to commute to.”
Some of the key drivers of York Region’s ICT growth centres around a focused and expanding workforce. More than a million people live in York Region and current Ontario municipal census results show that between 2011 to 2016 York Region added more residents than Montreal or Ottawa. More than 25,000 people are moving into the region every year.
Those people are creating new businesses. More than 1,300 to be precise, producing approximately 12,500 jobs each year. Of that 9.2 per cent are in ICT type of occupations. This base of talent has ages between 25 to 64.
Compugen’s headquarters is based Richmond Hill, having established there in the mid-1990s. The company’s founder and CEO Harry Zarek said York Region’s location is an important factor in the growth of the area. He describes it as the centre of the technology industry for the greater Toronto area.
“It’s a fantastic location for us. With such a strong technology cluster, it’s become a very collaborative community local to us. And, many with complementary skills. The location itself gives easy access to many of the residential communities in the GTA. This has given us the ability to discover and recruit great talent in sales, marketing, management as well as individuals with deep technical – both specialized and more general. We’ve always been able to find the right people from this location. In addition to being an excellent location for current staff and future recruitment, Richmond Hill also provides easy access for both visitors and the distribution of our products,” Zarek said.
York Region has many key ICT sectors such as enterprise software, enterprise communications, and IT services. IT vendors with offices there include Lenovo, Epson, IBM, Citrix, AMD, Oracle and Toshiba. There’s also a healthy collection of data centres hosted by the likes of CenturyLink and Dupont Fabros Technology Inc.
Pat Lance, vice-president of sales and market at Unity, another CDN Top 100 Solution Provider, sees more advantages by being located in York Region that other municipalities. They are:
- York region ideally located for employee base;
- Excellent technology literate talent pool;
- Proximity to Canada’s largest business market;
- Easy access to both Markham, Richmond Hill tech corridor;
- Easy access to Toronto airport, which is essential to providing national coverage;
- Lower tax base than Toronto; and
- Lower cost per square foot for office and warehousing space.
“Setting up our business in York Region gave us access to an experienced and skilled talent pool specific to our business. Couple that with the lower costs to operate in York region with proximity to the largest business market in Canada, we were able to grow the business and quickly become a national solutions provider,” Lance said.
We mapped the headquarters of the 20 solution providers that have presence in York Region. Learn by more exploring the custom Google Map below:
Just like Lance at Unity, Zarek also believes Compugen can grow significantly in York Region.
“Being in York Region has definitely contributed to the growth of Compugen over the years. In the time, we have been in the area, Compugen has more than quadrupled our revenue and leveraged our location in the region to serve as home base to offices across the country and into the U.S. Having the ability to expand our operations and find the people we need from a community centred in the technology arena has had a significant impact on that growth,” Zarek said.