Director of Strategic Initiatives, The Town of Whitby
CEO, 1855 Whitby
How innovation and collaboration within the Whitby business community has helped see the town through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Town of Whitby is a picturesque waterfront community located 40 minutes east of Toronto, ON, in Durham Region. Its two historic downtowns, tourism attractions, and abundance of parks, schools, and recreation spaces, make it an ideal place for all ages to live, visit, and play.
It’s also ideal for business. As one of Ontario’s fastest-growing municipalities, Whitby boasts a diverse and sustainable economy, robust business support network, and thriving innovation eco-system — which includes 1855 Whitby, Durham’s first tech accelerator. It also boasts a high percentage of women entrepreneurs and professionals. “About 40% of the tech company founders here, and five of the nine members of our Town Council, are women,” says Stephanie Mann, 1855 Whitby’s CEO.
With easy access to talent, capital, and academic partners, as well as proximity to downtown Toronto, the 400-series highways, and several post-secondary institutions, Whitby is proof that you don’t need to be in a large city centre to have a thriving career or run a successful business. “You can run an entire global company from here,” says Mann. Just look at the growing number of international companies relocating facilities to Whitby, including Amazon, Golder Associates, GHD, and Gerdau.
Collaboration, caring, and coming together during COVID-19
A notable feature of Whitby is its community culture. “We’re known for being a collaborative and caring community where people come together to make great things happen,” says Sarah Klein, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Town of Whitby. Themes of collaboration, caring, and coming together played out in a big way during the COVID-19 crisis, enabling Whitby’s business community to quickly pivot, think creatively, and develop new business opportunities.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, the Town of Whitby worked with its regional partners to develop a Local Economic Recovery Plan. By collaborating with key partners, including the Whitby Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Whitby BIA, they provided resources and support programs to help support existing local businesses. The #ShopLocalWhitby social media campaign, for example, encouraged people to support these businesses by shopping local, and the What’s Open Whitby portal let them know where and how they could do so. “Some of these businesses, like restaurants, were hit first and the hardest and could have ended up closing their doors permanently if not supported right away,” says Klein.
The business community itself also responded with a number of local organizations and companies, like Geekspeak, Velocity E-signature Platforms, Ontario Power Generation’s X-lab and the Brock Street Brewing Company, pivoting to support the community and reinvent themselves during the pandemic. “Many local manufacturers and companies adapted to help fight COVID-19 through the production and assembly of non-medical face shields and personal protective equipment (PPE). Our very own Whitby Public Library helped the community use their 3D printers to produce non-medical face shields,” says Klein. Whitby even saw a number of new business openings take place over the summer – including boutique speciality shops Green & Frugal and Exotic Knacks – a rare occurrence during the difficult time.
Another key element of the Recovery Plan was fostering and sustaining growth in the innovation economy. “As a result, many Whitby-based tech companies have discovered new growth opportunities and verticals by quickly adapting their service models,” says Klein.
Whitby’s tech sector will play a leading role in the town’s future economic wellbeing. “Companies such as SpaceiShare and Hire and Fire Your Kids are quickly becoming pandemic-proof and everything they do here goes back to support the small businesses in our community to keep them thriving,” says Mann.
A one-stop-shop for work-life balance
A case study in resilience, innovation, community spirit, and work–life balance, Whitby is worth a closer look. “We’re a unique and progressive community that can offer an exceptional quality of life and a meaningful career,” says Klein.