by Mary Teresa Bitti of the Financial Post

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 The article reads:


Bob Desautels, an award-winning restaurateur and founder of the Neighbourhood Group of Companies, has never been more excited about a restaurant opening. His latest restaurant, Miijidaa, an Ojibwe word that means "let’s eat,” opened recently in downtown Guelph, Ont. It’s his third in the city and follows the same triple-bottom line, green philosophy as the hugely successful The Woolwich Arrow, better known as the Wooly, and Borealis Grille & Bar. Miijidaa is the culmination of his efforts to push the limits of hard-to-define Canadian cuisine, fusing First Nations, French, English and even Viking influences.

Western Canada looms large in the exclusive 2015 rankings of Canada’s most entrepreneurial communities compiled by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Read the list to find out how strong the entrepreneurial heart beats in your city.

Having launched and sold restaurants in Toronto, Ottawa and Peterborough, Ont., Guelph is proving to be the ideal spot for his business for a few key reasons: location, a dynamic community open to new experiences and a diversified industry mix resilient to economic downturns.

While Linamar Corp. is the city’s largest employer, Guelph’s manufacturing base supports a host of growing industries beyond automotive including energy, agribusiness, aerospace and technology. And it has a growing ICT sector that is developing technologies to serve these industries.

All of this has worked to the restaurateur’s and the city’s advantage. Through the 2008 recession the Wooly, Desautels’ gastro pub featuring local craft beer and local food, saw sales grow to $2 million from $1.2 million.

Guelph, with a population of 120,000, has a highly educated workforce and some 4,000 GDP-producing businesses. It is the fifth fastest growing jurisdiction in Ontario, has one of the highest gross domestic product per capita in the province and greatest levels of in-migrations.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses ranks Guelph the sixth best big city in Canada to be an entrepreneur in the annual the annual CFIB/FP 2015 Entrepreneurial City Rankings.

Ted Mallett, vice-president and chief economist at CFIB, said cities are ranked based on 14 indicators reflecting small firm creation, business optimism and views of local government and regulatory processes.

"We’re seeing Guelph do reasonably well in all the major areas but it enjoys particularly good scores with respect to optimism — this even though there is some malaise on this front in Southwestern Ontario’s manufacturing base,” he said. "Guelph being a satellite to the GTA certainly helps. Businesses that locate here have access to a very large market, less traffic congestion and lower costs.”

For Desautels, who has lived in Guelph since his student days at the University of Guelph and started his first restaurant here in 1990, the fact that he is within driving distance of the majority of his suppliers has been critical. "Local, health food is the foundation of the business. Our two Borealis restaurants [the other is in Kitchener] are radically local. We only sell Ontario wines and beers and 75 per cent of our food comes within a 100 mile radius,” he said.

"We’ve developed a relationship with these suppliers which we would not be able to do if we were based in Toronto. We do field trips every three months with our staff to visit farms and wineries and transfer that relationship to our guests.”

Guelph’s greatest strength may be its ecosystem of support for business at all stages of development. That ecosystem consists of the city’s Economic Development Office, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, the University of Guelph, Conestoga College, the Small Business Enterprise Centre and Innovation Guelph.

"When it comes to supporting business there is an all-hands-on-deck approach. Each organization serves as an entry point to accessing a variety of components,” said Kithio Mwanzia, president and chief executive of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. "Everyone in the network knows they are on quick referral to everyone else. A trust has been built within the network because we each know our role and strengths and that’s why we can support business together.”

Rob Murray, co-founder of Intrigue Media, credits that ecosystem for helping him start and grow his business. Launched in 2006, the marketing company helps organizations get noticed in their communities through the use of digital TVs in high traffic consumer neighbourhoods complemented by social media, online advertising and website development services.

"The Guelph Wellington Small Business Centre got us legal counsel to help us draft a contract when we first started. We took part in a trade show with the Chamber of Commerce where we made significant contacts including a connection to the investment firm that in 2009 would purchase a stake in our business and help us franchise our model. We gained a mentor at Innovation Guelph who is now on our board of advisers,” Murray said.

"We believe Intrigue might not have had the same chance to grow or survive if we hadn’t launched in Guelph. It is a city with a big sense of community.” Intrigue Media has seen growth of between 30 per cent and 50 per cent year over year for the past four years.

Restaurateur Desautels said it’s a community he could never leave. "On a personal level, Guelph is a great place to live. We have a strong arts and music scene here. It’s about an hour from Toronto and Stratford. When it comes to the business, we found our ideal target market: a well-educated and curious consumer willing to try new things.”