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A snapshot of BC's biggest companies

Jock Finlayson dives into a list of BC's heaviest heavyweights.

B.C. Business magazine recently updated its annual tabulation of the 100 biggest locally-based companies, ranked by revenues.  This is a handy source of summary information on the largest B.C.-headquartered enterprises.  It counts not only public firms, but also privately-held businesses as well as a number of provincial Crown corporations.

Many well-known businesses with a substantial presence in British Columbia are not captured by the top 100 list because they don’t have their headquarters here. Examples include several of Canada’s largest banks, the leading railways and air carriers (CN and CP Rail, Air Canada, and Westjet), hotel chains such as Fairmont and Marriott, major retailers (e.g., Canadian Tire, HBC, Walmart), and global technology giants like Microsoft, Amazon, SAP, and Shopify.

In addition, the biggest Canadian firms in the legal, accounting and consulting fields, despite being a visible part of the local business community, don’t feature in B.C.’s top 100 because their Canadian head offices are in Toronto.

Table 1 identifies the biggest 20 B.C.-based companies based on annual revenues.

The table confirms a couple of interesting points. First, privately-held firms occupy an important place within “corporate British Columbia” -- with the Jim Pattison Group, the Georgia Main Group, Best Buy Canada, Ledcor, and London Drugs all ranked in the top 20.  Second, Crown corporations and other entities owned and ultimately controlled by the provincial government are a significant factor in the B.C. marketplace, making up fully one quarter of the 20 largest enterprises with head offices in the province. This speaks to the important role that the state has played in British Columbia’s economic development over the decades.

Industry Composition

We are also interested in the industrial make-up of the province’s leading home-grown businesses. Table 2 provides data on the non-government corporations in B.C.’s top 100, grouped by broad industry sector. Because 12 of the top 100 are Crown enterprises or other government-owned entities, the data in the table are for the remaining 88 “private sector” companies.

Using the B.C. Business industry categorizations, 32 of these 88 firms are in natural resource industries (36%), with mining and forestry dominating this segment. Slightly more than one-fifth (19 of 88) are involved in manufacturing or transportation. Twelve of the province’s largest non-government enterprises are retail businesses, while 10 are primarily engaged in real estate activity.

Other large B.C. firms are scattered across a mix of industries such as finance, science and technology, utilities, tourism and culture, and telecommunications. Of note, B.C.’s most iconic business organization, the Jim Pattison Group, is unique in being classified as “diversified,” a reflection of the fact its operations span many different industries.

A glance at the biggest private sector enterprises reveals that natural resource industries along with manufacturing and transportation still pack an outsized punch in corporate British Columbia, accounting for more than 50 of the 88 biggest locally-headquartered private sector companies. The rapidly-growing advanced technology sector has yet to make its presence felt in a pronounced way: just 3 of the top 100 firms – 4 if Telus is treated as a technology company – come from what B.C. Business labels the “science and technology” sector.

That said, it is worth noting that a half-dozen B.C. technology companies have reached “unicorn” status in just the past several months, suggesting that the province’s technology sector is on the rise.

We are confident that firms producing advanced technology goods and services will be more prominent among B.C.’s leading home-grown companies in future B.C. Business surveys.

Jock Finlayson is a Senior Advisor of the Business Council of British Columbia.