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President, Mars Canada.

Bolton, Ont., nestled between the Cold Creek Conservation Area to the north and the Nashville Conservation Reserve to the east, is home to roughly 26,000 people. With the beautiful Humber River passing through its centre, the community has an idyllic small-town vibe and at first glance seems an unlikely home for one of Canada's largest brands in the food and pet-care industries.

When Mars was looking for its first headquarters in Canada, three factors guided our decision: Where can we provide the best quality of life for our associates? Where's the best location physically for our business? And where will we get the most support from local government? This trifecta led us to Bolton, and 30 years later it continues to pay dividends.

Between our Bolton headquarters, and our other manufacturing facilities in similarly small Ontario communities such as Newmarket and Guelph, we achieved a retention rate of 87 per cent over the past year and on average our associates stay with us for nine years. When it comes to keeping talent at Mars, we attribute much of our success to carefully considering the communities that we operate in.

The urbanization of the past few decades has resulted in 82 per cent of the Canadian population living in large and medium-sized cities, inevitably leading many businesses to centralize their operations in urban hubs to tap into the largest and most desirable talent pool. What's often overlooked in this process, however, is the role the physical location of a business plays in the well-being of employees.

An associate's experience should be viewed holistically, including their lives beyond the workplace and not centred solely on wages and benefits. An example of this kind of thinking is factoring in commute times. A location outside of the downtown core provides an easier commute for associates that choose to live closer to an urban centre as they will typically travel against the flow of traffic. This benefits their well-being by reducing the stress associated with a long commute and helps businesses through improved productivity.

Another factor often overlooked when choosing an office location is the deep sense of connection that people feel for companies in supporting local initiatives. For example, our longest partnership has been with Caledon Community Services, providing support through volunteer hours and donations on such projects as The Exchange, a new community food centre with a focus on education, and providing those less fortunate with food.

We have found that our associates who live in and around the communities in which we operate tend to passionately participate in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Since the effects of CSR initiatives, such as supporting a local animal shelter, are felt closer to home, it fosters a strong sense of ownership and pride in employees to work for a brand that helps people that they often know firsthand. Operating in smaller communities allows big companies to more easily see the impact they can have on people's lives and reaffirm the value in committing to CSR programs.

The lower cost of land in small communities also makes it more feasible to offer extra benefits within the workplace. In Bolton, for example, Mars offers free parking, an on-site cafeteria, a gym, and outdoor volleyball and basketball courts. Locations in small communities can even have natural perks. Our Guelph site is home to an acreage of maple trees that is tapped, and the sap is used to make the maple syrup we bottle for associates and guests. These small things all go a long way in improving our associates' quality of life and retention.

Another added bonus of small cities is that they better lend themselves to future expansion. We recently grew our Newmarket plant to accommodate the production of Maltesers, creating 30 new full-time jobs. We also expanded our Bolton food plant, a 55,000 square-foot, $77-million dollar expansion of our Mars' Ready-to-Heat production facility, which created 37 new highly skilled, well-paying, full-time jobs for the community. It's the single largest capital project expenditure in our company's history, and a sign of our commitment to responsibly growing operations in the communities we call home.

In addition to providing employment opportunities, large businesses can also aid smaller cities with the boosted economic spinoff of attracting other businesses to the area. As well, local governments tend to be willing to work more closely with you on initiatives due to the role you play in fostering employment in the region. In turn, this makes for a positive business atmosphere that helps foster growth and builds long-term relations that transcend changes in government.

As a big fish in a small pond, businesses can not only provide a higher quality of life for their employees, but they can also have a more significant impact on the community in which they operate. By resisting the urge to centralize in an urban hub and thinking more holistically about the physical location in which they operate, large businesses serve to reap immeasurable benefits in terms of how they are perceived by both internal and external stakeholders.

'You have to have a strategy or else you don’t know where you are going, and then of course you have to be able to make it happen, call that leadership'

Special to Globe and Mail Update

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