Nanaimo has transitioned from commodity-based economy that traditionally relied on an abundance of natural resources in the forest and oceans towards a service-based “Knowledge” economy that relies on the skills, talent and innovation of the local workforce. The area offers a diversified economic base of 6,146 businesses operating within the City of Nanaimo. Nanaimo’s largest sectors by number of businesses are Construction (18.9%), Retail Trade (12.6%), Professional Scientific & Technical (12.6%), Other Services except Public Administration (10.7%) and Healthcare/Social Assistance (10.2%). These top five industry sectors account for over 65% of all business licenses.
Most of Nanaimo’s businesses are locally owned operations. 67% describe themselves as locally owned and operated, 3% are franchise operations and 9.49% are branch offices of larger companies.
Home-based businesses account for about 37% of total business licenses issued. Many people choose to use their home as a “business incubator” to test their initial business ideas and later move into commercial space.
Nanaimo’s location has helped the city develop as an important retail, service, transportation and distribution centre for central and northern Vancouver Island. The city has about 58.1% of the Nanaimo Regional District population, but has 75% of the region’s retail and service floor space.
The city’s primary trade area comprises about 164,235people drawn from the Nanaimo Regional District and the town of Ladysmith. This trade area has been growing due to population growth. On average, the primary trade area grew by 6.3% between 2011 and 2016.
The City's secondary trade area has over 142,179 people in the Alberni-Clayoquot region to the west, and the Comox Strathcona region to the north. This area has grown by 3.13% between 2011 and 2016.
The City's tertiary trade area has an additional 86,237 people from the Cowichan Valley region to the south, and the Mount Waddington region to the north. This area has grown by 4.35% between 2011 and 2016. Thus, the total trade area is approximately 392,651 persons.
As with Canadian business composition, the majority of the businesses in Nanaimo are small to medium size enterprises. Nanaimo had 3,977 businesses with employees. Approximately 88% 3,501) of these businesses had between 1 and 19 employees; 8% (322)of the businesses had between 20-49 employees; 4% (147) of these businesses had between 50-499 employees and 7 businesses have more than 500 employees. The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) including Nanaimo had 5,821 businesses with employees. Nanaimo accounts for over 68 percent of the businesses with employees in the region, further supporting its role as the regions economic and employment centre.