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Grey Bruce Economy

Updated: Sep 9, 2023


Grey Bruce Economy

In this featured post on Grey Bruce we’re going to cover the Grey Bruce economy. Economic development in Grey Bruce counties is front and centre in the minds of many entrepreneurs, politicians and local municipalities. 

 

Key Sources for this article: Creastats, Four County Labour Market Planning Board, Made in Grey, Mi6, Ontario Farm and Lands, Visit Grey, Visit Ontario

 

While there is overlap between Grey and Bruce in some industries there are some unique aspects in each market that will draw you to one over the other. The good news is the commute to each is not long! 


Both Grey and Bruce have strong economic development teams, resources and are keen to help people and businesses choose to locate or stay here and grow. Let’s dig in.


Table of Contents (TOC): Sectors: Food and Accommodation, Manufacturing, Farming, Retail, Healthcare, Construction, Tourism, Energy | Economic and Employment Opportunities: Bruce County, Grey County | Impact of COVID-19: Bruce County, Grey County | Summary of Business Environment in Grey Bruce 


Grey Bruce Sectors


Food and Accommodation


The accommodation and food sectors in Grey and Bruce Counties are integral components of the local economy and have significant roles in the area's tourism industry. Grey County boasts an outstanding tourism industry, welcoming over 3 million visitors.


Major attractions include the Blue Mountain Resort, Cobble Beach, the Bruce Trail, Niagara Escarpment, and Georgian Bay. This tourism demand has led to growth opportunities in the accommodation sector, with top employers including Blue Mountain Resort, Scandinave Spa, and Best Western Inn on the Bay​.


The food sector in Grey Bruce is characterized by a strong focus on local produce and a diversity of food businesses. For instance, Eat Local Grey Bruce is a farm and food co-op consisting of 70+ farmers and food producers across the region, offering a wide range of products from frozen meat and dairy to vegetables, bread, fruits, and preserved goods​.


Other food businesses include the Milk Maid Fine Cheese & Gourmet Food, Owen Sound Farmers Market, Keady Market, Farm Queen Foods, Sweet Things from DeJong Acres, and the Sideroad Farm Store, among others​.


Several restaurants in Grey Bruce are renowned for their inventive seasonal menus, devotion to locally-sourced food, and impeccable kitchen technique and table service. These include Bishop's Landing in Best Western Inn on the Bay, Bruce Wine Bar & Kitchen, Bonfire on Queen and the Flying Chestnut Kitchen​​.


Recent housing trends have highlighted a critical issue affecting the accommodation sector. Rising housing costs and a growing population have led to a shortage of affordable housing options, which could potentially impact the availability and cost of accommodations for tourists​.

Manufacturing


The manufacturing sector in Grey Bruce is a significant part of the region's economy, accounting for 12% of the workforce and generating over $1.5 billion in exports. This sector has grown more than four times compared to the next closest sector and has been supported by major organizations such as the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC), which was founded in Owen Sound and now serves the sector nationwide​.


Key employers in the manufacturing sector in the region include Transcontinental Printing, Hobart Food Equipment Group Canada, Viking-Cives, Caframo and Chapman's Ice Cream​​.


The sector's specializations include wood furniture, printing, packaging, mining equipment, and metal fabrication, with the Grey Bruce region also attracting new Bruce Power suppliers and establishing an advanced manufacturing niche.


A recent development in the manufacturing sector in Grey Bruce is the $500,000 provincial government funding awarded to Hydrogen Optimized, a subsidiary of Key DH Technologies Inc., to support the company's first phase of manufacturing rollout in Owen Sound.


This funding, provided through the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund, will support an overall $4.6 million investment by Hydrogen Optimized in its RuggedCell™ water electrolyzer manufacturing operations and create five new jobs.


Hydrogen Optimized's patented RuggedCell™ electrolyzers are designed to achieve the lowest levelized cost of clean hydrogen at a large scale, converting renewable energy like solar and wind power into green hydrogen. This technology serves the clean energy requirements of major industrial applications such as steelmaking, ammonia production, and e-fuels​.

Farming


The Grey Bruce region spans an area that is 8,600 km² and reaches both Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Roughly half of the total land area in both counties is farmland. Despite a decrease in the number of farms and their size over the last two decades, farming revenue has increased in the region, indicating that the farms are becoming more efficient, productive, and profitable.


Grey Bruce is also advantaged by its proximity to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which provides a large labour force from neighbouring counties, districts, and regions. The natural landscape is an asset to farmers who have easy access to freshwater in rivers, wetlands, watersheds, and Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

 
 

Farmers Markets are a crucial aspect of farming in the Grey Bruce region, helping to simplify the connection between producer and customer. Eat Local Grey Bruce, for example, facilitates an online farmers' market. They offer an online shop, home delivery, and local pick-up points throughout both counties. They currently offer over 500 products and are constantly expanding their offering​.


An innovative example of farming in the Grey Bruce region is Thornbury Acres. This cooperative community model integrates various agricultural activities, including dedicated market plots for each homestead, rotating field crops, a U-pick berry plot, and two food forest zones. They also utilize shared seeding infrastructure, maintain perennial herb and medicine gardens, and manage beehives through a community partnership. Thornbury Acres' approach embodies the region's commitment to sustainable farming and community engagement.


Veterinary clinics and hospitals are available throughout the Grey Bruce region, with specialists in both small and large animals. There is also a wide variety of supply shops throughout the region, which can provide feed, tools, and farm equipment. Auctions also play a role in the farming ecosystem, whether for purchasing equipment or selling items from the farm​​.


Grey Bruce Farmers' Week (GBFW) is an annual agricultural conference in Elmwood, Ontario, providing education for farmers and agribusiness since 1966. The event, coordinated by Grey County Agricultural Services, features a speaker agenda, tradeshow, and dedicated days for different agricultural sectors. It offers a hybrid model of in-person and livestream participation. GBFW also provides a scholarship for Ontario Veterinary College graduates. The next event is scheduled for January 2024.


Dr. Peter Kotzeff, a farmer and veterinarian in the Grey Bruce region, has been recognized for his commitment to soil health, innovation and environmental stewardship. He practices regenerative agriculture on his approximately 2,200-acre property, which is largely considered marginal land with irregular sloped fields. The properties contain many natural features, including the Saugeen River, the Beatty Saugeen, and part of the headwaters of the Pottawatomi River. These features provide a secure water source for his cattle. Approximately half of his land is used for cash crops, a quarter for grazing, and the remaining quarter is protected woodland, wetland, and riverbanks, with some areas permanently fenced off for preservation​.

Retail


The region's retail sector, with a market draw of over 180,000, has been a beacon for major retailers for many years, establishing a strong commercial presence that has become an integral part of the local economy.


Two major urban centers, Owen Sound and Hanover, serve as bustling hubs of retail activity. These cities, along with numerous charming villages and hidden gems scattered across the region, offer a rich tapestry of shopping experiences that cater to a wide range of consumer preferences.


The retail offerings in Grey Bruce are as diverse as they are unique. From the nostalgic charm of old-fashioned general stores, where one can find homemade treats and local crafts, to innovative, award-winning small businesses that push the boundaries of retail, the region offers something for everyone.


Notable shopping locations such as The Olde Stanton Store, Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Blue Mountain Village, and Thornbury Antique Market further enrich the retail landscape, each contributing their unique flair to the overall shopping experience.


In the northern part of Grey County, the City of Owen Sound stands as a testament to the region's commercial prowess. Home to hundreds of businesses, it serves as the commercial hub of the region, further solidifying the importance of the retail sector in Grey Bruce.


In essence, the retail sector in Grey Bruce is a dynamic and integral part of the region's economy and culture. It is a testament to the region's entrepreneurial spirit, offering a blend of traditional and innovative retail experiences that cater to both locals and visitors alike.

Healthcare


The healthcare sector provides networked services and facilities aimed at providing comprehensive care to the region's residents. The cornerstone of this network is Grey Bruce Health Services (GBHS), a multi-site healthcare provider offering a wide array of services, including women's health, labor and child care, surgery, occupational therapy, mental health and addiction services, dialysis, and diabetes care. GBHS operates facilities in several locations, ensuring accessibility to quality healthcare across the region.


Complementing GBHS's efforts is Grey Bruce Public Health, an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting public health. They provide resources on various health topics, including COVID-19, prenatal classes, and smoking cessation. They also issue public health advisories, such as reminders to prevent tick bites to protect against Lyme disease.


The South West Health Line provides valuable information about health services, careers, news, events, and resources in the region. They also link to Home And Community Care Support Services, which offers healthcare at home, further expanding the reach of healthcare services in Grey Bruce.


Adding to the healthcare sector in Grey Bruce is the significant contribution of Georgian College's nursing program. The college recently launched a stand-alone four-year Bachelor of Science and Nursing program, providing a comprehensive education for aspiring nurses. The first cohort of students has already settled into this new program, marking a significant step forward in local healthcare education.


In addition to the new program, Georgian College has made substantial investments in its facilities. A local donor was recognized for funding the renewal of a nursing wing, enhancing the learning environment for nursing students. Furthermore, the college opened a new $7.1 million Nursing and Wellness wing in Owen Sound, further expanding its capacity to train future healthcare professionals.


The college is also benefiting from provincial support. The new Ontario Learn and Stay Grant program is expected to help retain more professionally-trained nurses in the region, supporting both the students and the local healthcare sector.


The healthcare sector in Grey Bruce is a comprehensive and well-coordinated system, ensuring residents have access to a wide range of services, from hospital care to public health initiatives and home healthcare. The significant contribution of Georgian College's nursing program further strengthens this sector, promising a bright future for healthcare in the region.


The recruitment of Doctors, Dentists and Nurses is a main goal of the region due to increasing demand, population growth and the number of Doctors about to retire. Programs like McMaster University's Rural Stream program are showing promising results attracting recent grads to the region to set up rural family practices.

Construction


Grey Bruce is experiencing a surge in construction activities. There is a boom in both residential and commercial construction in the area, thanks to a thriving real estate market and business expansion.


Housing prices have risen 45% in the last four years, which has led developers to submit plans for over 3,000 residential units, however they have yet to be built. Apart from residential construction, there are also multiple commercial and industrial development and expansion projects underway. Some of the companies contributing to this boom include The Miller Group, Harold Sutherlands Construction (acquired by Walker in 2019), Grey-Bruce Construction and Barry's Construction​​.


A noteworthy project in the region is the construction of a new $68 million "state-of-the-art" hospital in Markdale. This project has been in the works for nearly two decades, with the province approving it in 2015. The new Markdale hospital is expected to take two years to complete and will include inpatient beds, a 24/7 emergency room, a laboratory, diagnostic imaging services, physiotherapy, space for ambulatory care clinics, and two ambulance bays.


The contract to build this hospital was awarded to Bird Construction, a firm with offices across Canada​​.

Tourism


Grey Bruce is known for its diverse landscapes, rich history, vibrant culture, and a wealth of attractions that cater to all types of travelers. It is made up of two counties: Grey County and Bruce County, both of which have their unique offerings.


In Grey County, some notable destinations include:

  • Owen Sound: Known for its natural surroundings and home to the annual Salmon Spectacular Fishing Derby, a 10-day event hosted by the Sydenham Sportsmen's Association. Inglis Falls, a breathtaking waterfall on the Sydenham River, is also situated just south of Owen Sound. Discover Owen Sound.

  • Meaford: A town that celebrates the fall season with the Apple Harvest Craft Show and Scarecrow Invasion. Explore and play.

  • The Blue Mountains: This town is home to the award-winning Apple Pie Trail, Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster, and Blue Mountain Resort, the largest mountain resort in Ontario. Explore Blue.

There's also the tranquil Thornbury Harbour and the Georgian Hills Vineyards for wine enthusiasts.

Bruce County offers:

  • Tobermory: A haven for scuba diving enthusiasts, it's also the gateway to Fathom Five National Marine Park. Check it out.

  • Lion's Head: Offers spectacular views from the Bruce Trail. More here.

  • Sauble Beach: Known as the world’s second-largest freshwater beach, it offers exceptional swimming and is a popular spot for kiteboarding. Go there.

  • Southampton: A beautiful community with a thriving arts scene, located on the shores of Lake Huron. Visit them.

  • Wiarton: Known for the Wiarton Marina and the annual Groundhog Day celebrations with the town's famous resident, Wiarton Willie. Check it out.

Several excellent accommodations are available in the region, including The Westin Trillium House, Pretty River Valley Country Inn, and Cobble Beach Resort, among others.


The Grey Bruce region is also known for its outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, boating, and fishing. Some well-known trails include the Bruce Trail, and the region boasts several historic lighthouses dotting the coastline​​.

 
 

Energy


The energy sector in Grey Bruce, which is part of the tri-county region with Huron in Ontario, Canada, is identified as a key economic driver and is considered the "Clean Energy Frontier" of Ontario. This region has significant expertise, strong local leadership, and clean, reliable, Ontario-made energy​​.


There is a growing interest in renewable energy sources within the region, with solar panels and wind turbines being increasingly adopted. The government provides incentive programs for solar panel installations, which has led to a rise in solar power businesses. A local company, Sunfish Solar, offers solutions to lower hydro costs through solar panels, and they have installed panels on residential properties and farms across the region​​.


The region is also witnessing an expansion in natural gas access. Areas including Kincardine, Arran-Elderslie, Brockton, and West Grey are expected to have access to natural gas by 2024. The expansion is part of a provincial plan, which includes a $234 million investment to support approximately 8,750 connections in 43 rural, northern, and Indigenous communities. The expansion is expected to save the average household between $250 to $1,500 per year in energy costs by switching from electricity, propane, and oil to natural gas​.


Additionally, Bruce Power, a nuclear power provider located on the shore of Lake Huron, generates power for one in three homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses in Ontario, along with providing medical isotopes globally. They are currently undergoing a multi-year Life-Extension Program to invest in their site, community, and province​​.


Innovation Park, located in Saugeen Shores, Canada, is a business hub focusing on companies in the clean energy sector. The park consists of 17 lots, each one to two acres in size, providing space for businesses to operate and grow.


The park's design encourages collaboration and idea exchange among its tenants. It's situated in a natural setting with access to trails, providing a unique work environment. The local population is well-educated, offering a potential talent pool for businesses.


Innovation Park is strategically located for businesses looking to access North America's largest markets. It's an option for businesses seeking to expand or start anew in a supportive and innovative environment.


The Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) is a Canadian independent, non-profit organization focused on promoting innovation in the nuclear industry. NII advocates for nuclear energy as a solution for decarbonization, economic growth, and medical applications such as cancer treatment.


The institute is dedicated to fostering new technologies and practices in the nuclear sector, aiming to contribute to a global shift towards a low-carbon future. It emphasizes the need for continuous improvement in the nuclear industry, exploring new ways to improve electricity production, enhance safety, reduce environmental footprints, and broaden the use of radioisotopes in medicine​.

Economic & Employment Opportunities in Bruce County


Entrepreneurs and Businesses


Bruce County, highlighted on the Business to Bruce website, is a dynamic hub for diverse industries. With robust support for start-ups and established businesses alike, the county fosters growth and innovation. Its resilience in the post-pandemic economy makes it an ideal investment destination.


Support Services


Bruce County offers comprehensive support services for businesses, as detailed on the the website. These include free and confidential consultations, training and education through seminars and workshops, and access to numerous grant opportunities. The services cover a wide range of topics, from business planning and marketing strategies to regulatory compliance and financial management.


Training and Events


Bruce County offers a wealth of free training materials for entrepreneurs and business owners. These resources, accessible anytime, include video recordings, presentations, and handouts from past seminars and webinars. Topics span a wide range, from business basics and digital marketing to workforce development and human resources, providing comprehensive support for business growth and success in Bruce County.


Community Profiles


The Community Profiles page on the Business to Bruce website provides detailed information about the various communities within Bruce County. Each community, from Kincardine to Tobermory, is unique yet full of economic opportunity. The profiles offer insights into each town's brand, business clusters, and population. With 854 kilometers of coastline, 400,000 acres of farmland, and long winding rivers, Bruce County's communities are described as business incubators, each offering distinct advantages for business growth and development.


Businesses for Sale


The Businesses For Sale page on the Business to Bruce website serves as a platform for connecting prospective and experienced business owners. It assists those looking to purchase an established business and those intending to sell their business. The page emphasizes the importance of proper planning and finding the right match to ensure a smooth transition of ownership. It also offers a listing of current businesses for sale in Bruce County, allowing potential buyers to learn more about these businesses, their client base, brand presence, and any challenges they may be facing. The website provides a facility to submit a business listing, making it a comprehensive resource for business buying and selling in Bruce County.

Economic & Employment Opportunities in Grey County


The Made in Grey website is a comprehensive online hub dedicated to economic development in Grey County, Ontario. It serves as a valuable resource for a wide range of audiences, offering insights into key industries, investment opportunities, local news and events, and much more. Whether you're an entrepreneur looking to start or grow a business, or a resident (current or prospective) seeking to understand more about the community and its economic landscape, the website provides a wealth of information tailored to your needs.


Entrepreneurs


Current Entrepreneurs in Grey County


For entrepreneurs already operating in Grey County, the site provides insights into key industries, which can help businesses understand the local market dynamics and identify potential opportunities for growth or diversification. The Business Enterprise Centre section offers support for existing businesses, providing resources that can help them thrive. Additionally, the Investment Opportunities section can be particularly useful for businesses looking to expand, offering information on potential investment avenues and available commercial properties.


Prospective Entrepreneurs


For those considering starting a business in Grey County, the website provides a wealth of information. The Key Industries section can help prospective entrepreneurs identify promising sectors for their ventures. The site also provides details about the Starter Company Plus program, a grant and mentorship initiative for new entrepreneurs, which could be instrumental in helping them kickstart their businesses. The Made in Grey site features business profiles providing a glimpse into the successful businesses in the county, providing inspiration and valuable insights for new entrepreneurs.

 
 

Residents


Current Residents of Grey County


For residents of Grey County, the website serves as a central hub for staying informed about local economic developments, job fairs, and community events. The News / Events section keeps residents up-to-date with the latest happenings in the county, which could include community events, job fairs, or new business openings. This information can help residents stay connected with the community and take advantage of local opportunities.


Prospective Residents


For individuals considering a move to Grey County, the website offers a wealth of information. The Key Industries section can give potential residents an idea of the dominant sectors in the county, providing insights into the types of jobs that might be available. The Regional Job Fairs section provides details about past and/or upcoming job fairs, helping job seekers identify potential employment opportunities. The Business Profiles on the site offers a glimpse into the local business community, giving potential residents a sense of the entrepreneurial spirit and lifestyle in Grey County.


In conclusion, whether you're an entrepreneur or a resident, the "Made in Grey" website provides an overview of Grey County's economic landscape, making it an tool for anyone interested in living or doing business in the county.


Innovation and Sustainability in Action

The video below provides a snapshot of the county's economic landscape, highlighting its advanced agricultural practices, clean energy initiatives, and supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem.


You'll learn about the high-tech methods used by local apple grower Bay Growers Cooperative, the clean energy efforts of Ice River Sustainable Solutions, and the county's strategy for business retention and expansion.


The video also showcases the collaborative spirit of "Team Grey," a cross-departmental effort working towards a prosperous future for the county and Southwestern Ontario.


 
 

Impact of COVID-19 on Bruce County Businesses


The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020, severely impacted businesses in Bruce County. Many had to reduce their operation hours, lay off employees, and some even had to close down. The pandemic particularly affected non-essential businesses that had to make difficult decisions during the consecutive lockdowns in 2021.


However, the June business counts data from January to June does not accurately reflect the impact of the pandemic due to possible delays in business closure procedures and potential methodological changes.


Changes in Business Counts in Bruce County


Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the total number of classified businesses in Bruce County increased from 6,595 in June 2020 to 6,670 in June 2021. This growth was largely driven by increases in owner-operated businesses and small businesses with 1-4 employees. In contrast, businesses with 20-49 employees saw the most decrease.


Out of all businesses, owner-operated ones made up 71 percent. However, the number of businesses with 100 or more employees decreased by 5 from the previous year, potentially leading to job losses.


Top Industry Sub-Sectors in Bruce County


The top ten industry sub-sectors in Bruce County, as of June 2021, were led by Professional, scientific and technical services with 234 employers, followed by Specialty trade contractors (190) and Food services and drinking places (119). Other sectors included Animal production and aquaculture, Ambulatory health care services, Construction of buildings, Real estate, Crop production, Religious, grant-making, civic, and professional and similar organizations, and Food and beverage stores.


The data provides insights into the current business landscape of Bruce County, although the full impact of the pandemic may not yet be entirely visible due to delays in closure procedures.


Data: Changes in Number of Businesses, Bruce County

​Employee Size Range

​June 2020

June 2021

Changes

% of Total Businesses (2020)

0

4,698

4,722

24

71%

1-4

1,056

1,126

70

17%

5-9

392

380

-12

6%

10-19

234

250

16

4%

20-49

160

135

-25

2%

50-99

28

35

7

1%

100+

27

22

-5

<1%

Total

6,596

6,670

75

100%

Data: Top Ten Industry Sub-Sectors by Number of Firms with Employees, Bruce County

NAICS

1-4

5-19

20-99

100+

Total

Professional, Scientific and Technical Services

194

30

9

1

234

Specialty Trade Contractors

117

63

10

0

190

Food Services and Drinking Places

25

70

23

1

119

Animal Production and Aquaculture

79

34

2

1

116

​Ambulatory Health Care Services

62

26

3

0

91

Construction of Buildings

46

40

2

0

88

Real Estate

74

6

4