- Foreign investors consider market size, trade relationships, and the ease of doing business when looking at new countries in which to invest.
- Toronto is a logical destination for foreign investors because of its proximity to the US and the fact that 40% of Canadians live in Ontario.
- Canada can improve its attractiveness to foreign investors by streamlining and digitizing permitting processes.
Foreign investors looking to Toronto should take advantage of the local resources at their disposal, including the economic development agency, which will help improve ease of doing business, open the door to new connections and opportunities, and help streamline the acquisition of a new facility.
Tell me about Printful, your history and what you have created in Canada.
Printful is an on-demand printing and warehousing company. We serve ecommerce businesses, and we produce and ship customizable products like clothing, accessories and different home and living items.
Our fulfilment centre in Canada is going to begin with different product categories that we produce. One of them is called direct-to-garment printing, and that is typically apparel shirts that we print on digitally with equipment. We are going to begin with this process, and embroidery of hats and apparel as well. This facility is going to be a production centre and with time, potentially there are going to be other roles and positions like customer service, maybe even programming. But initially, the main focus is on creating a fulfillment centre and having the capability of producing products locally in Canada and shipping and delivering them to our customers much faster that when shipping from the US.
What are the main qualities that a company like Printful looks at when determining where to make foreign investments?
There are different factors that we take into account. One of them is the market size, that is important for us. Also, what kind of trade relationships does the country have with bordering countries? We look at how developed the overall ecommerce ecosystem is and try to estimate the potential demand for the services our business is offering. The ease of doing business is also very important—logistical considerations, infrastructure, legal, and so forth.
Why did Printful choose Toronto for its recent expansion?
Choosing the province was relatively easy, because almost 40% of Canadians live in Ontario. Then the next logical step was to look at Toronto more specifically.
Toronto is relatively close to the US border, which is one important factor for us, and it’s a huge centre in terms of population. Toronto is also very well-positioned for logistical considerations.
“Choosing the province was relatively easy, because almost 40% of Canadians live in Ontario.”
The first step, when we started looking at Toronto, was to reach out to organizations that would be able to provide us with information. We reached out to Toronto Global, which is an organization that helped us a lot both in the initial research phase and then along the way after we made the decision to start the facility in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). They were very helpful.
How would you characterize the Toronto region’s business ecosystem?
Overall, the ecosystem is friendly for foreign businesses, at least in our experience. Working very closely together with Toronto Global was advantageous and helpful for us because they were able to make those key introductions that otherwise would have taken significantly longer, so having a great resource like that was very helpful for us.
The main challenge was finding a facility. The real estate market at the time when we were looking was relatively tight—it was literally right before COVID-19. I have not done research recently to see what the environment is like now, but for us at the time it was quite challenging. There were only a couple of options that met our needs and that meant that the lease rates were relatively high. It was challenging for us, but it was not impossible to overcome. We did end up selecting a site and we found a location that met our needs and were able to move forward, but it took a bit longer than we hoped. That was the most challenging thing out of all the aspects we considered.
Another challenge was permitting, but that is not Toronto or Canada specific—it is a challenge everywhere.
From a recruitment perspective, we have been very happy so far. The team we have hired has been great and the number of people applying for jobs has been relatively high. We do not have any challenges with recruitment so far.
What were Canada and Toronto’s biggest challenges when attracting foreign direct investment and how can they be improved?
Our experience was quite good, so I cannot really say that there were some significant, big issues that we stumbled upon or that were big roadblocks for us. Again, working with Toronto Global was very helpful, so having a resource like that almost anywhere in the world is very helpful, but Toronto Global specifically was just a really good experience for us.
“If Canada was able to be the country that develops a new process and procedure for permitting that is online and very straightforward, that would be very helpful.”
In terms of challenges, for any company that is doing manufacturing that needs to retrofit a facility—bring in electrical, things like that—permitting is challenging everywhere. If Canada was able to be the country that develops a new process and procedure for permitting that is online and very straightforward, that would be very helpful. The next step for processes like these will be replacing human being evaluating specific permits with bots that can do that. I do not know which country is going to be the first to improve this process but doing so would be attractive to many businesses. For a company considering either opening a location in the northern United States or in Canada, that could be the factor that tips the scale over onto Canada’s side.
As a foreign investor in Canada, what advice would you give other foreign investors looking to come to Canada?
From our experience, finding a good local resource is incredibly important and I would say that either we got lucky that we found Toronto Global, but it has just been a very pleasant experience working with them. Like I mentioned earlier, they were able to make those key introductions for us with companies that they already are familiar with that have helped other foreign businesses to enter the Canadian market, so that was very, very helpful for us. If a service like that was available everywhere else in the world, we would be very happy.