Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

“Always drink upstream from the herd.” — Will Rogers

Rent prices continue to soar

The relentless price increases in the rental market have continued for another month, according to a new report from Rentals.ca. The average market rent for new leases in Canada in October was up 9.9 per cent over last year, with an average one bedroom going for $1,889. That story played out in London, too, where rents are up 6.1 per cent compared to a year ago. The average price for a one-bedroom unit in the Forest City is now $1,878, with two-bedroom units going for $2,257 on average. It’s also another record-breaker: October was the sixth straight month where the average rent hit an all-time high in Canada. “Rents are getting so high to the point where people are almost out of options. They’re looking desperately to find more affordable rents,” said Rentals.ca spokesperson Giacomo Ladas.


The upshot: Like the last Rentals.ca report (and the one before that, and one before that… ), this month’s update makes for gloomy, albeit unsurprising, reading if you’re looking to put a roof over your head in the rental market. The pace of rent increases does appear to be slowing, but only slightly, with the year-over-year increase for October down slightly from the 11.1 per cent increase recorded in the last report. Though it’s not a new trend, this will add to the pressure on all levels of governments to find some path forward that provides some relief. Housing is dominating the federal government’s agenda right now, and with a mini-budget coming next week, the Liberals will be keen to show they are able to make some progress on spurring housing construction. 

Read more: Rentals.ca | BNN Bloomberg

Lyft ridesharing arrives in London

Pull aside, Uber ― ride-sharing competitor Lyft launched in London and Kitchener-Waterloo this week. It’s the company’s first expansion in Southwestern Ontario, after launches in Ottawa, Toronto and other large cities across the country in 2017. Since then, the company has been relatively quiet in terms of expansion, compared to the years of rapid expansion by the ride-sharing apps in the mid-2010s (Uber first launched in London in 2015).


The upshot: The ride-sharing economy has definitely settled into a steady state over the last few years, and the days of animosity between taxis and “the apps” are mostly over (in part because the two now operate very close to one another in terms of both service and price). The Western Gazette did a little shoe-leather reporting this week to gauge how students (a key demographic for the apps) were feeling, and the reaction was pretty lukewarm. “Normally, if I want to go somewhere, I’ll take buses,” said one student. “I’ll probably stay with Uber,” said another. None of Lyft’s other services, such as e-scooters, a bike-sharing system and food-delivery service, have launched in London yet.

Read more: London Free Press | Western Gazette

Labatt investing nearly $27 million in London facility to boost production and sustainability

A small local brewery you may have heard of, Labatt, announced this week that it is investing $26.6 million into its facility here in London ― $13.5 million of that will fund four new tanks for its fermenting cellar, while the rest ($13.09 million) will finance two new packaging lines in the brewhouse. “This innovative packaging technology uses a sustainable paperboard, enabling products to be packaged with significantly less glue,” the brewery said. They described the expansion as a vote of confidence in their London brewery and a forward-looking investment. “We are constantly doing what’s needed to ensure the brewery is prepared for future growth through production and environmental efficiencies, and this injection of capital will go a long way to optimize our brewery,” said general manager Alex Martel.


The upshot: The four tanks snarled traffic earlier this week – so no need to worry that four more will be rumbling through. Otherwise, the investment seems to be aimed at improving their production capacity and making their packaging more sustainable once the machines are installed early next year. It won’t be an expansion that adds any jobs, however. “We’re allowing ourselves the capacity to brew more beer, but it’s just to better serve our consumers and expand our capabilities,” Martel said at the announcement. 

Read more: Newswire | CBC News London

RHA Ventures announces launch of $30-million 519 Growth Fund II 

Boutique investment firm RHA Ventures Inc. has announced the launch a second venture capital fund ― a $30-million fund called 519 Growth Fund II (519 GFII), building and expanding on the investing they’d done with the first 519 Growth Fund, introduced in 2022. The firm said that the fund will “invest in early-stage companies in the agriculture, agri-food and technology-enabled sectors,” according to a press release. “We are excited to launch this new fund due to the market gap in both capital and business support for early-stage companies,” said Nevin McDougall, managing partner at RHA Ventures. RHA co-founder Joe Dales said that “early-stage company founders are often in need of sector expertise, operational capability and networks, which our firm has delivered to other portfolio companies in the past.” The firm said it has secured an anchor investor and is expecting to close its first fundraising round in March.


The upshot: It looks like RHA Ventures is aiming for some larger investments with this fund, compared to the first. “We’ll still look at early-stage companies, both pre-seed and seed stage,” McDougall told London Inc. last month. “But we will be looking at some larger investments, closer to the million-dollar investment level.” (The first fund was aimed more at investments in the $75,000 to $250,000 range.) The first fund also recently announced investments in three new companies: Adviice, StrongBo, and Turnkey Genomics.

Read more: RHA Ventures

Fanshawe opens downtown culinary arts retail outlet

There’s a new spot to get freshly butchered meats in downtown London. Run by students in Fanshawe College’s culinary arts program, the store is called Chef’s Table Market and is currently open for a few hours a week every Thursday afternoon. The store sells a number of food products, including cuts of meat from the school’s butchery program, pastries, baked goods and preserves (the shop is a sister store to The Chef's Table Restaurant & Café, Fanshawe’s teaching restaurant which serves lunch and dinner daily on weekdays). The idea, program coordinator Troy Spicer told CBC News London, is to give students hands-on experience running the retail side of their training while making good use of all the cuts of meat produced by the butchery program (for an idea of scale: the school butchers around 80 chickens a week, Spicer said.)


The upshot: The new store sits nicely at the intersection of two trends ― rising demand for locally processed meat products and the need for a new generation of butchers. The Canadian Meat Council has warned that a “rapidly deteriorating nation-wide shortage of butchers” is “threatening the interest of Canadian livestock producers.” Spicer said that this program helps plug that hole. “The labour demand for these students when they complete the program is really, really strong,” he told the CBC. “We have industry telling us they need lots more graduates, so when you’re supporting the store, you’re supporting the industry as a whole.” 

Read more: CBC News London

London pulling out of beleaguered social housing software consortium

After a decade and around $1 million spent on it, the city looks set to pull out of a social housing software consortium. A report going to the city’s Community and Protective Services Committee next week recommends the city drop out of the consortium, called the Housing Collaborative Initiative, and set up its own plan to manage housing data. London was the lead municipality on the project when it launched with eight other cities back in 2011. But since then, the project seemed to be going nowhere. York Region has also dropped out, and the software itself has only been used by two of the eight municipalities, Hamilton and Waterloo. 


The upshot: This project will probably be destined to show up in an auditor’s report somewhere, either municipally or provincially. What exactly went wrong doesn’t seem completely clear. The software itself seemed largely forgotten about for a long time, and it was only earlier this spring that concerns began to be raised about how the money had been spent. “The plug probably should have been pulled long ago,” said Mayor Josh Morgan, who also said that while $1 million is a large figure, that it was spread out over a bunch of different aspects of the project, and he “wouldn’t say all of it should be considered a loss.” City politicians will receive the report on Tuesday and are expected to take up staff’s recommendation to cut their losses. 

Read more: Global News London

Dispatch: November 17, 2023

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

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