Seniors mean business

Niagara's aging populace represents opportunities for entrepreneurs

Reprinted from The Standard
(St. Catharines, Ontario)

Friday November 12, 1999

by Bill Currie

The roofing repair business will enjoy a boom in Niagara over the next 20 years. This is one of the surprising results of a six-month study by the Madison Avenue Demographics Group into business opportunities arising from Niagara's aging population.

"Aging people live in aging houses and they need to replace their roofs every 20 or 25 years," says University of Toronto professor David Foot. "So all of a sudden roofing contractors come out as a huge business opportunity that you might never have otherwise thought of if you didn't do an integrated research profile."

Foot is one of three demographics experts in the Madison Avenue partnership who studied the area's business potential this summer at the request of the Niagara Economic and Tourism Corp., the Region's economic development agency.

The results of the study were released today at the White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The $50,000 study looked into how Niagara's over-45 population could be turned into a competitive advantage over the next two decades.

The study uncovered business opportunities in many fields, from aquaculture to vacation-home construction. Demographic statistics, including family and food expenditures and surveys on how people spend time, were used to develop conclusions about what economic development initiatives and business investments should be considered.

The study will help the Niagara corporation develop long-term economic plans. Through the Niagara Investment Marketing Initiative sponsored by Human Resources Development Canada, the corporation identified the need to research the adult lifestyle market. Because of Foot's work in demographics, and theories presented in his best-seller Boom, Bust and Echo, and a lesser-known book he published early in his career on the over-45 market, the corporation approached him to conduct the study.

"He was the ideal person to tell us what we really needed to know," said business development officer Barb Okanik. "Now that David and the Madison Avenue group have done their analysis, we're absolutely convinced that there's some really wonderful opportunities here for Niagara."

Following the presentation, corporation officials were to host a detailed tour of the area for 12 investors from Buffalo, Toronto, Burlington and Mississauga. "They're coming into the area to look at the kinds of opportunities that are here with respect to development that relate to adult lifestyle," Okanik said.

Foot and his colleagues, Richard Loreto, Thomas McCormack and research associate Gerald Bierling, began by collecting Statistics Canada data on the area. In many cases, they were able to look at special tabulations of the data broken down by age. "Statistics Canada often collect this data but they very seldom publish it this way," Foot said. "We need it because the challenge to us was: what are the impacts of an aging population?"

Foot and the group came up with a top 20 list of growth opportunities for Niagara, which include some standard things like the need for optometrists, dentists, vacation homes and golf courses. But he said there were some surprises, including the roofing repair industry. Foot said one of the unexpected results of the study identified the need for an aquaculture operation, because as people age, they tend to eat more fish. "You wouldn't normally think of that as an investment opportunity in a region that's not on the open ocean, for example, but it fits very nicely in," Foot said.

He said attracting tourism also looks promising, both from within Canada and from the United States, since most people tend to travel in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

The study identified Casino Niagara as the right sort of investment for an aging population because, Foot said, people are much more likely to visit a casino in their 50s.