Business composition

As with Canadian business composition, majority of the businesses in Nanaimo region are small to medium size enterprises.  Approximately 88 percent of the businesses are small, employing fewer than 19 people; 155 businesses (4%) have more than 50 employees.

Businesses operating in Nanaimo are required to have a City of Nanaimo business licence.  As of Dec 31, 2015 there were 5,782 licences issued for businesses operating in the city. 

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 36% of total business licences issued.  Many people choose to use their home as a “business incubator” to test their initial business ideas and later move into commercial space. 

Figure 1.19 details the number of business licences issued by the city of Nanaimo, by industry sector.  As of December 31, 2015, the construction sector had the highest number of licenses, accounting for 17.4% of the total.  The retail sector has the second highest number of business licences accounting for 14.0% of the total.  The chart does not include unlicensed businesses, government service operations, or not-for-profit organizations.  City of Nanaimo data includes businesses of every size including single proprietors.


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 57% 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 154,495 people 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 5.7% between 2006 and 2011.