A snapshot of corporate British Columbia

July 9, 2019
Jock Finlayson

BC Business magazine has just published its latest list of the “top 100” companies based in British Columbia. Of course, many companies with a presence in B.C. are not headquartered here but still make important contributions to the province’s economy. But examining the biggest locally-based enterprises is a way to gain insight into the most important home-grown players in our economy.

BC Business’ ranking is based on total revenues in each organization’s most recent fiscal year. The list includes both private sector businesses and several commercial entities that are owned/controlled by the provincial government.

What can we learn by looking at the top 100 and digging further into them via their web sites? A few things stand out.

Natural resource industries loom large. Among the top 50 B.C.-based companies, 18 are mainly engaged in extracting and/or processing resource-based products[1], with the three largest being Teck (ranked 2nd in annual revenues), West Fraser (6th), and First Quantum Minerals (10th). Of the next 50 (i.e., those ranked 51st
to 100th in revenues), 12 are resource-based businesses. Thus, of the top 100 B.C.-based enterprises, 30% are in a natural resource industry (forestry, mining, energy production, or agri-food production).[2]

Government corporations are prominent. [3] Six of the biggest 50 B.C.-based “businesses” are actually owned by the provincial government: B.C. Hydro (ranked 5th in revenues), ICBC (8th), the Liquor Distribution Branch (15th), the B.C. Lottery Corporation (18th), WorkSafe (29th), and TransLink (29th). Among the next 50, four are under the control of the province: Providence Health Care (56th), B.C. Ferries (57th), the Housing Management Commission (64th), and Powerex[4]

Exporting is often a key factor driving business growth. Many large B.C.-based corporations are engaged in selling goods and services outside of the province. This is especially true for companies in the natural resource and manufacturing sectors, but it also applies to some large B.C.-based firms involved in wholesale, distribution and equipment leasing/maintenance businesses. Of the top 20 private sector businesses – leaving aside Crown corporations – half export from their B.C. facilities.

An increasing number of our leading companies have most of their assets elsewhere. British Columbia is a small market of just 5 million people, so it’s not surprising that some of our biggest companies have the bulk of their operations and assets outside of the province. This is true for most large mining companies, as well as for numerous B.C.-based manufacturers and major retail businesses. Other large organizations, including Telus, the Jim Pattison Group, and HSBC Bank Canada, also have a substantial and expanding footprint outside of the province. Several forest companies in the top 100 have made extensive investments in the United States since the early 2000s, in part due to an unattractive and increasingly costly operating environment at home.

A very diverse set of service businesses. British Columbia is home to a diverse collection of sizable companies in a wide range of service-producing industries. Some examples are provided below.

  • Transportation and logistics (e.g., Teekay Corp., Imperial Parking, YVR, Seaspan).
  • Financial services (e.g., HSBC Bank Canada, Cannacord Genuity, Longview Aviation Capital, VanCity, Coast Capital Savings, Pacific Blue Cross).
  • Non-financial retail businesses (e.g., Jim Pattison Group,[5]
    H.Y. Louie[6], London Drugs).
  • The real estate/development and construction industries (e.g., Ledcor, Charlwood Pacific Group[7], Aquilini Investment Group,[8]
    Polygon, Concert Properties).
  • Film and entertainment (Lion’s Gate Entertainment, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, and also the Aquilini Investment Group[9]).

Finally, a few of the top 100 organizations are hard to categorize by industry, because their businesses span multiple sectors. The best examples are the Jim Pattison Group, Shato Holdings and the Aquilini Investment Group.

A healthy corporate sector depends on the presence of head offices of businesses that have reached significant size. B.C. is home to a number of these firms. Policy-makers need to focus on making the province an attractive location not just for new and small businesses, but also for the larger companies that help to underpin overall prosperity.

[1] This includes B.C. Hydro.
[2] Among agri-food businesses, I treat Sunrise Farms and Windset Farms as B.C.-based food growers/producers. Two other top 100 firms, Nature’s Path and Golden Boy, source agricultural inputs from multiple jurisdictions rather than mainly within B.C. and thus I do not classify them as B.C. “natural resource” businesses.
[3] The top 100 list includes the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), ranked 92nd in revenues. It manages the pensions of many current and former public sector employees. Given the nature of BCIMC’s board, which includes a majority of directors who represent different groups of public sector employees, and the “joint trusteeship” model of the underlying pension plans, I don’t consider the organization to be controlled by the government.
[4] Powerex Corporation is a subsidiary of B.C. Hydro, but it appears as a separate entity in the BC Business list and is therefore treated as such here.
[5] The Jim Pattison Group is a conglomerate whose activities span several industries and many distinct business lines. But some of its best-known businesses are in the retail space (e.g., grocery stores and automobile dealerships).
[6] In 2018, the company was re-named Georgia Main Food Group.
[7] The company is involved in building franchise organizations, with a primary focus on real estate.
[8] Via its wholly owned subsidiary, Aquilini Development.
[9] Among other businesses, the company owns the Vancouver Canucks.

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