Our annual snapshot of B.C.’s corporate heavyweights proves once again you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
See the complete list – The 2022 Top 100: 1 to 50 and The 2022 Top 100: 51 to 100
The boom times only look that way in hindsight. We may come to remember 2021 as the sweet spot between the initial shock COVID-19 dealt to the world economy and the twin perils of inflation and rising interest rates that threaten recession in 2022.
Both literally and figuratively, 2021 was a year for healing. The deployment of vaccines dramatically defanged the pandemic’s lethal bite, even as new coronavirus variants found ways around our defences. Meanwhile the British Columbia economy played catch-up on the ground lost in 2020, growing an estimated 5 percent and returning the province effectively to full employment.
Credit where it’s due: public policy had a lot to do with it. Government stimulus, initially focused on individuals, shifted to small business and hard-hit sectors with nary a word about austerity. Meanwhile, central banks kept overnight lending rates near all-time lows. Money could be had seemingly for free.
In 2021 we began to notice the consequences, though, first with a spring spike in lumber prices as the long under-capitalized forest industry struggled to meet house-bound consumers’ sudden passion for home improvement. Then supply-chain issues popped up across the global economy as companies reconfigured their sources of inputs to ward off pandemic-related disruptions and geopolitical realignments of an increasingly bipolar world.
By fall, it would manifest itself as across-the-board inflation. Indeed, disruption to the free flow of goods felt all the more acute here in British Columbia, where catastrophic weather events had a material effect on the economy. Not only would a once-in-a-millennium “heat dome” in June result in close to 600 fatalities—making it the most deadly weather event in Canadian history—an unprecedented tornado struck Vancouver’s Point Grey. A succession of “atmospheric rivers” of rain in November precipitated flooding and washouts that, for more than a week, severed all direct highway and rail transport between the southwest coast and the rest of Canada. Gasoline sales were subject to rationing for weeks.
But remember, these were the good times.
For B.C.’s natural resource companies and their suppliers, 2021 was a tremendous year. As you can see in the Top 100 list, forest and mining companies posted revenue and profit gains well into the double digits. In the case of West Fraser Timber, where revenues shot up 140 percent, higher wood prices and volume sales were further leveraged by consolidation, as the company digested its takeover of Toronto-based sheet board manufacturer Norbord Inc.
Likewise, copper producer First Quantum Minerals evidenced impeccable timing in ramping up its massive Cobre Panama mine in Central America, just as a world fixated on electric vehicles took a run on the sublimely conductive metal. It was a similar story at perennial Top 100 heavyweights Teck Resources, Canfor Corp. and Finning International. Thanks to the commodities boom, the number of B.C.-based companies in the 12 figures doubled year-over-year, to four. Slower-growing Crown corporations, traditionally prominent among the province’s corporate titans, were all but banished from the top 10 as a result.
Meanwhile, B.C.’s secular growth stories kept on doing their thing. Consumer-focused Lululemon Athletica, Premium Brands and upstart Article (parent name: TradeMango Solutions) all posted double-digit revenue growth again last year. Fresh off their initial public offerings over the previous two years, customer service automation company Telus International, web content distributor BBTV Holdings and health sciences startup AbCellera Biologics all crashed the list for the first time. Propelled by its ambitious acquisition of CRH Medical, Well Health Technologies almost made the cut on the back of a stupendous 500% year-over-year revenue surge. (It appears on our Next 10 list.)
READ MORE: The 2021 Top 100: Go Home, and Go Big
Not every sector thrived, of course. Continued COVID-related restrictions and public aversion to meetings and travel took their toll on the likes of past Top 100 inductees Coast Hotels and Wall Financial. Restaurant franchise networks like A&W Food Services, The Keg and Boston Pizza had another challenging year that left them off the list. A concerted push into e-commerce could not overcome the loss of foot traffic in Aritzia stores. Crown-owned transportation companies were not immune either, with Translink, BC Transit, BC Ferries and the Vancouver Airport Authority all operating well below capacity, though in the first three cases still big enough to be included in the Top 100. BC Lottery Corp. suffered from the loss of casino revenues, while the hobbled Great Canadian Gaming, a long-time Top 100 alumnus, was finally snapped up by New York’s Apollo Global Management.
Other B.C. companies taken out last year—though under happier circumstances—included gold producer Pretium Resources, bought by Newcrest Mining of Australia, and wood pellet manufacturer Pinnacle Renewable Energy, now part of United Kingdom-based Drax Group. Energy shipper Teekay LNG Partners became the property of New York-headquartered alternative investment firm Stonepeak.
Just when its revenues gained serious traction, pot grower Tilray moved its headquarters from Nanaimo to Leamington, Ont., where its merger partner Aphria is based. Formerly Prince George-based BID Group relocated to Mirabel, Quebec. Capstone Mining Corp. merged with Bermuda-based Mantos Copper late in the year to become Capstone Copper, with the headquarters consolidated in Vancouver.
All in all, the big got bigger, though perhaps fewer in number. The aggregate 16.7 percent jump in Top 100 revenues to more than $225 billion—a record—belies the fact the cut-off for the No. 100 company barely budged, at just over $340 million. Most of the $32 billion in additional revenues since 2020 came from a few giant resource companies, in other words.
“Since mid-2020, B.C.’s economy has received a well-timed boost from higher prices for many resource-based goods—notably natural gas, lumber and pulp, metals and minerals, and some parts of the agri-food complex. Buoyant commodity markets served as a helpful tailwind for the provincial economy as we came out of the COVID recession,” Business Council of B.C. senior policy advisor Jock Finlayson and chief economist Ken Peacock wrote in a year-end commentary in January. Their outlook came with a subtle warning, though: “In 2022, slower economic growth—globally and in North America—will reduce the contribution of commodities to B.C.’s rebound.”
As we know too well from experience, commodity booms come and go. Continuing to build and diversify B.C.’s economy will require nurturing the leadership and innovation of a next generation of corporate titans.