Big business headquarters | BCBusiness

Big business headquarters | BCBusiness
Vancouverites shouldn't expect their city to become laden with HQs from big businesses.

There's been another cry for more head offices in Vancouver, although this time the businesses are supposed to come from Asia. It’s not going to happen. The city should instead concentrate on attracting 21st-century businesses.

Anybody involved in business in Vancouver – especially in the business-services field – is very familiar with the “head office problem.” It’s a subject of discussion whenever business people get together and lament their problems over a beer (or three).

They really do cry in their beer over this, because Vancouver has very few head offices (those headquarters of large companies that feed all kinds of ancillary businesses, such as consultants, marketers, financial professionals, and suppliers).

Vancouver is known far and wide as a small-company town that attracts hordes of service providers because of its lifestyle, but doesn’t offer much work for them. So, as a result, they start small entrepreneurial businesses and usually scuffle along, or they live here and work elsewhere.

The equation is simple: too many providers plus too few clients equals near poverty.

Let’s face it, the only big companies headquartered in Vancouver are resource companies. It’s always been that in Vancouver.

So, I had to laugh when an American consultant arrived in town recently and suggested that Vancouver had the potential to be a head office town for Asian companies. I’ve been hearing that for years.

John Boyd, principal with the Boyd Company Inc., of New Jersey, said the city features a highly educated Asian workforce and that Vancouver has a unique relationship with Asia. This, combined with some more effort, he supposedly said, means we have a shot at getting more head offices.

Maybe Mr. Boyd was moved by our cooler temperatures after leaving the usually sweltering climate of New Jersey, or maybe the reporter who interviewed him was simply trying to put a good news spin on what was a pretty thin story, but I think they got it wrong.

The potential for head offices might be here, and our tax climate might be attractive to companies looking to move, but those two good points are outweighed by more bad ones.

For one, our costs are way too high. With our inflated land values and outrageous housing costs, what company would want to set up a large head office here? Even though they may be big, companies with head offices don’t just throw money away.  

In addition, those “potential” Asian companies would likely be establishing North American beachheads. Wouldn’t they go where the larger populations are, such as California, or to the Eastern U.S.?

Also, why would they want to be on the far west coast, between the mountains and the sea? Except for shipping, it makes for lousy distribution logistics. That’s why Calgary is now the west’s top head-office location. Trucks can get in and out of it relatively easily.  

I’d like to dream like the next guy that Vancouver will someday become a great head-office city, but it isn’t going to happen because most head offices are HQs for companies that make and distribute physical goods.

That’s so 20th century. Our salvation lies in the virtual/creative realm. We should concentrate on supplying the world with primo business services (i.e. driven by communications technology).

Only if we get good at that, will we become a head-office city – in the electronic age.