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From Site Selection magazine, September 2016

Cultivating the Roots of Canadian Innovation

These provinces and regions are leading the way.

When Corus consolidated all of its Toronto operations and over 1,000 employees under one roof at Corus Quay, it established a creative industry hub on Toronto’s waterfront.
Photo by Richard Johnson courtesy of Corus


The motto of His Excellency the Right Honorable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, is contemplare meliora, meaning “to envisage a better world.” It refers to his belief in “the abilities of all Canadians to imagine and create a smarter, more caring nation and contribute to a fairer, more just world.”

David Johnston, Governor General of Canada
His Excellency the Right Honorable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada

The Queen’s representative and Commander in Chief of Canada knows how important a culture of innovation and openness is to that mission. It’s why the former Harvard hockey star has launched a new national innovation awards program, and why he feels so strongly about fostering policies that support ingenuity and inclusion. Innovation is part of a natural sequence that begins with discovery and invention, he told Site Selection in an interview during a May 2016 visit to Atlanta, before invoking some more Latin.

“Discovery comes from the Latin verb discooperīre, which means to reveal,” said the former University of Waterloo president and McGill University vice-chancellor. “Invention comes from the Latin verb invenīre, which means to arrive at or come to.” It’s a matter of finding new applications for already discovered ideas, and of opening the channels for R&D to get commercialized without too much red tape or interference. Take the typical arrangement whereby any discovery or intellectual property created on a campus automatically belongs to the university, which typically strikes an agreement with the professor.

“At Waterloo, that made it difficult,” said Johnston, “so the university owns no IP. It belongs to the professors. I believe in that. Universities are not good at commercialization, nor should they attempt to be. They should be boundless, led by curiosity, and should not be constrained by guarding secrets.”

The challenge is to get discovery, invention and innovation all together in the same place.

2016 Canadian Competitiveness Rankings

  1. Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Growth
    Hon. Brad Duguid, Minister

  2. Opportunities NB
    Stephen Lund, CEO

  3. Invest Québec
    Pierre Gabriel Côté, President and CEO

“Looking across the landscape in Canada, we see different areas that have clustered these,” he said, highlighting the Toronto-to-Waterloo corridor Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District as national stars.

That is precisely what Site Selection does each year in arriving at Canada’s Best Locations, based on where companies are investing in new or expanded facilities. Not only are Greater Toronto and Waterloo-Kitchener-Cambridge among the top 10 regional performers in our annual evaluation, but the Province of Ontario and its Ministry of Economic Development and Growth this year take home the Canadian Competitiveness Award for being the top-performing province in economic development. The award is based on tallies and per-capita calculations related to corporate facility location and expansions investments tracked over a 12-month time period by Site Selection’s Conway Projects Database.

Ontario has a natural advantage, being home to 13.8 million people — more than 38 percent of the entire population of Canada. But the provincial government doesn’t just sit back and wait. Over the April 2015-March 2016 period, Site Selection tracked nearly 100 projects, from GE’s engine plant in Welland to Bioamber in Johnston’s hometown of Sarnia to Canadian global giant Magna’s investment in Greater London and 3M’s in Brockville. In August alone, the province announced in the space of one week that:

  • The Ministry of Economic Development and Growth will strengthen its already successful Investment Ready: Certified Site program (the only one of its kind in Canada).
  • The Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science will award C$51 million across an array of research programs.
  • Premier Kathleen Wynne will lead her first business mission to Japan and South Korea. She will be the first Ontario Premier to visit South Korea in 30 years and the first to visit Japan in a decade.
  • Wynne and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed an agreement to collaborate on attracting automotive R&D and investment.

Distinguished by Diversity

The stars dotting the Canadian economic development landscape are doing the hard work of cultivating an environment conducive to doing business and to creating a future for Canadians and their families — including the waves of new Canadians from other lands, such as 25,000 Syrian refugees.

“Our response to the Syrian refugee crisis was to me very heartwarming, because it reinforced fundamental values,” Governor General Johnston said. “We have seen immigration as a positive force that has brought new waves of energy to the country.” Those immigrants have also brought a fierce desire that life should be better for their children. “Children of immigrants today have substantially higher education than folks that have been in Canada for two to four generations,” he said. “That has served Canada well.”

MaRS Lekan Olawoye

“Traditionally, the sectors within our economy have worked in competing silos. But we are now seeing a shift towards collaboration for the common good ... At MaRS Studio Y, our goal is to help Ontario and Canada through this cultural transformation.”
— Lekan Olawoye, Program Director, MaRS Studio Y at MaRS Discovery District, which in June opened its corporate innovation district, the MaRS C Suite

A focus on inclusiveness combined with a high-quality public education system, he said, makes for a promising recipe.

“Those ingredients make for the basis of innovation and healthy communities,” he said, a point he later expounded on to Atlanta leaders. “How do we focus on learning, and make it available to all of our people?” he asked. As historians look back on this period of history, he said, it will be viewed as the first time societies weren’t measured by “the size of their GDP or armada, but by how well we can develop the talent of all of our people.”

He sees development on a larger scale springing from that individual development process, calling on the examples of his five daughters’ exposure to different cultures and socio-economic strata as they grew up. Today, “one speaks Arabic, two speak Russian and one speaks Chinese,” he said. As a result of diversity, he said, his children are curious, tolerant, engaged and empathetic — qualities that mesh well with the curiosity, capability, creativity, collaboration and celebration he sees as crucial to sparking an innovation culture. He then borrowed an image from Thomas Jefferson: the candle of knowledge.

“When you light your candle from me, my light does not diminish,” Johnston intoned.

Each year Site Selection salutes the regions lighting up Canada’s economy in the Top 10 Canadian Economic Development Groups representing regions or municipalities. In addition to Conway Projects Database calculations, we pay close attention to such subjective but tangible factors as regional partnership, proactive programming and legislation, and quality data and Web resources.

Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and China was nearly $8.5 billion in 2015, a 10.1-percent increase over 2014.

City of Brantford Economic Development

John Frabotta, Director

“The small size and modular design will enable us to locate similarly designed plants alongside feedstock suppliers such as plastics recyclers, or within the operations of large wax customers.”
— Kousay Said, President & CEO, GreenMantra Technologies, at the May 2016 completion of construction for the company’s new plant in Brantford

Significant Projects: Mitsui High-tec (Canada) Inc. (auto parts); Solar Ship (aircraft); KindCann (medical marijuana)

Programs & Initiatives: By pursuing the Smart City – Intelligent Community designation, launched in 2013, Brantford aims to “create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a global economy where jobs, investment and progress increasingly depend on a broadband economy.” EmployerOne workforce survey; updated economic development strategy; 743 business consultations completed by the Brantford-Brant Business Resource Enterprise Centre.

MaRS Lekan Olawoye

“We are working with New Brunswickers to create the right climate for economic growth.”
— New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant (shown here discussing the economy with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), speaking at the recent Opportunities Summit on economic development in Moncton

Did You Know? Just an hour southwest of Toronto in the heart of the Golden Horseshoe, Brantford boasts a population of 94,000 that is expected to grow to 115,000 by 2020. The city features one of the best urban trail systems in Canada, with over 40 km. (25 miles) of Trans Canada Trail meandering through the community and along the historic Grand River.

City of Hamilton Economic Development (Ont.)

Neil Everson, Director of Economic Development & Real Estate Division

“The Hamilton area has world-class water engineering, manufacturing expertise and supply chain support to successfully compete with any membrane manufacturing location in the world.”
— John Tomescu, CEO, Fibracast Inc.

Significant Projects: G3 Canada (agribusiness); Pipeline Studios (software); Fibracast (water treatment membrane manufacturing); Shawn & Ed Brewing Co.

Programs & Initiatives: The Hamilton Niagara Region was pitched during the July 2015 Pan Am Games to high-potential business leaders; among the resulting opportunities, a partnership was established to develop a National Sports Analytics Centre of Excellence in the Hamilton-Niagara Corridor. US Steel Canada is aiming to all or part of its current 800+ acres [324+ in hectares] of industrial land on Hamilton’s harborfront. The “One-Stop” helps businesses build, expand, develop and start-up faster and more efficiently. IBM & HHS announced a new center in downtown Hamilton focused on healthcare innovation.

Did You Know? The Synapse Life Sciences Consortium showcases Hamilton’s premier life sciences cluster, which includes such institutions as McMaster University, Mohawk College, Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Josephs Healthcare.

London Economic Development Corporation (Ont.)

Kapil Lakhotia, President & CEO

“Our customers are demanding and the industry is changing. In North America it will take a lot more value-added technology to be competitive.”
— Ramsden Industries GM Andrew Ramsden on the reasons behind the aluminum castings firm’s C$6.1-million expansion, London Free Press, July 2016

Significant Projects: Magna International (auto parts); Presidium Equipment (sporting goods); Starlim North America (plastics); Farm Boy 2012 (produce warehouse)

Programs & Initiatives: “To remain competitive and attract investment the city of London always has a stock of at least 200 acres [81 in hectares] of fully serviced city-owned industrial land that is available” and free of development charges, says London EDC. The organization works with other London agencies including Campus Linked Accelerators at Western University and Fanshawe College, Small Business Centre, TechAlliance, Stiller Centre and others. Strategic initiatives include a last-mile fiber-optic connection pilot program; food and beverage programs to support agri-food entrepreneurs; and talent development support for SMEs.

Did You Know? The headquarters of the Canadian division of 3M are located in London, and both the Labatt and Carling breweries were founded there.

Greater Moncton Economic Development

Eric Mourant, President & CEO

“Through these programs we not only ensure that the New Brunswick community continues to be a center of excellence for technology-based businesses, but we can train new test engineers in BMM’s methods and procedures long before they start work, giving them a real head-start in the industry.”
— Linda Lemieux, Senior Vice President, BMM Testlabs Canada, on offering jobs in June 2016 to five graduates of the BMM-designed Testing/QA course at College Communautaire du Nouveau Brunswick (CCNB)

Significant Projects: WestJet Airlines (call center); Advanced Heli Core (aircraft); BMM Testlabs (gaming testing)

Programs & Initiatives: There are an estimated 1.4 million people living within a 2.5-hour drive of Greater Moncton — the largest population catchment area of any urban center in Atlantic Canada. The industrial park infrastructure includes Caledonia Industrial Estates, Moncton Industrial Park and Dieppe Industrial Park, due to expand soon near Greater Moncton International Airport.

Did You Know? Samantha Robichaud from Moncton was one of the punk-rock, tap-dancing fiddlers who stole the show at opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Montréal International

Hubert Bolduc, President & CEO


“The support we received from the Premier of Québec, Mr. Couillard, along with the Ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation, and Investissement Québec, has allowed us to make this decision to invest, for ourselves and the city of Montréal. Together we can use this investment to kick-start a world-class animation hub in one of the coolest cities in the world.”
— Peter Nagle, Chairman of the Cinesite board, at the company’s February 2016 announcement of a new 500-job, $67-million studio

Significant Projects: LISIAerospace Canada; Medtronic CryoCath; ABB (industrial controls); Nestlé Skin Health

Programs & Initiatives: A master’s degree in aerospace engineering is offered jointly by six universities in Québec and the Aerospace Embedded Systems Engineering program. For a fifth consecutive year, Montréal in July was ranked first in the Americas for international events, according to the Union of International Associations. The city hosted 108 international events in 2015.

Did You Know? The Intelligent Community Forum in June 2016 named Montréal as the 2016 Intelligent Community of the Year.

Québec International

Carl Viel, President & CEO


“Owing to its integration in the industrial community, this research facility targeting innovation, unique both in Québec and in Canada due to its shared governance and infrastructure and its first-class technical capacity, will enable Thales to create more highly-skilled jobs, provide training support for talented personnel and showcase an innovation hub focused on urban science, positioning the Province of Québec as a leader in the development of citizen-centric urban technologies.”
— Siegfried Usal, VP Strategy and Communications, Thales Canada Inc., at the April 2015 announcement of a project to make Québec City a life-sized urban lab

Significant Projects: Olympus (device manufacturing); Ubisoft and Gearbox Software (video games); Microsoft (cloud services); Atlas Medic (HQ relocation); Medicago (vaccines)

Programs & Initiatives: 2015 was a record year for FDI, both for reinvestment, primarily in the technology industry. Québec International was involved in projects worth over $500 million in 2015, but total FDI for the region exceeded $670 million. Québec International in 2015 led 13 prospecting and promotional missions and also spearheaded initiatives in Asian cities during missions with its Canadian partners. These activities generated meetings with over 265 businesses and potential investors. In February 2015, Québec International and the City of Québec co-launched Le CAMP, a high-tech incubator/accelerator.

Did You Know? The 2016 edition of KPMG’s Competitive Alternatives confirms that Québec City continues to be ranked No. 1 worldwide among comparably sized urban areas (i.e. over 500,000 inhabitants in mature markets) in terms of its competitive cost advantages. According to this biennial study, it is 16.1 percent cheaper to set up a company and do business in Québec City, compared with the US average.

Invest Toronto

Terrie O’Leary, Interim President & CEO, EVP of Operations

“Toronto is home to a vibrant and prolific healthcare and life sciences community led by academic hospitals, world-class research institutions, top scientists, and a strong startupecosystem. For these reasons, Toronto is a natural choice for our first international expansion of JLABS.”
— Melinda Richter, Head of JLABS, Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Significant Projects: Tata Consultancy (office); Biolab Sanus Farmacêutica (R&D); Lowe’s (DC in Milton); PT Studios (film production); Soti (software); TD Bank (HQ)

Programs & Initiatives: Toronto’s Imagination, Manufacturing, Innovation and Technology (IMIT) business incentive has recently been reviewed and amended to increase the incentive level for eligible applicants constructing new buildings or substantially renovating existing buildings in Employment Districts. Launching later this year, Toronto Global merges the operations of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Invest Toronto.

Did You Know? According to the 2016 Branham 300 Report, nearly a quarter of the top 250 Canadian tech firms are based in Toronto. Toronto also is home to one of the largest financial services talent concentrations in the Americas, employing over 251,000 people across the region. This represents 70 percent of Ontario’s and 36 percent of Canada’s sector employment.

Vancouver Economic Commission

Ian McKay, CEO

“Boeing Vancouver is tapping into an amazing talent pool with a long history of delivering great innovations that have made the world a better place.”
— Amrik Virk, B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, at the August 2016 announcement of Boeing’s new Vancouver Labs in downtown Vancouver, focused on analytics-driven software

Significant Projects: Sony Pictures Imageworks Canada (HQ); ACL Services (HQ); Columbia Containers (logistics); Orgaworld Surrey (waste management); CMW Insurance Services

Programs & Initiatives: The Vancouver Economic Commission is focused on the key sectors of tech, digital entertainment & interactive and green businesses. Regional transportation-related investment commitments total more than $20 billion. According to Stronger Together: The Strengths of Canada’s Four Global Financial Centres, (Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal), facilitating FDI is a core strength for Vancouver, the second-highest-rated activity by survey respondents after wealth management. The area’s credit union system was called the most significant contributor to growth in Vancouver’s financial services sector, after the rise of Asia as an economic power and Canada becoming a settlement hub for the renminbi.

Did You Know? More than 100,000 international students choose BC, recently ranked as having the third-best education system in the world. In Vancouver, 60 percent of K-12 students speak a language other than English at home.

Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation

Tony LaMantia, CEO

“Waterloo has become an important innovation center in Canada, judged among the best in the world. The ingredients are a strong town-gown collaboration, a keen sense of curiosity, good learning institutions and great respect for theory and practice going back and forth across a walkway that is never stationary.”
— Canada Governor General David Johnston, in an interview with Site Selection, May 2016

Significant Projects: CSG Apparel; Grand River Foods; Precision Resource Canada; Shopify; Google Canada

Programs & Initiatives: The C$55-milllion hardware technology workspace Catalyst137, announced in June 2016, bills itself as “the largest Internet of Things innovation center in the world.” The Communitech Hub space for startups opened an expanded facility in July 2016, backed by $1.2 million from the province, when space became available after Google moved to a larger space nearby.

Did You Know? The University of Waterloo — known for giving birth to the Blackberry, its research park and its unique work/learn continuum — was born 60 years ago because the head of a major tire company needed more engineers.

Economic Development Winnipeg

Dayna Spiring, President & CEO

“When the Jets came back, there was a new attitude shift. We’re seeing this tower being proposed because of that.”
— Brent Bellamy, Number TEN Architectural Group, noting the importance of the return of the city’s NHL hockey team at the April announcement by Artis REIT of a new $165-million skyscraper in downtown Winnipeg

Significant Projects: SkipTheDishes (online food-ordering and delivery); GE Aircraft Engines; Santorini Dairies; Standard Aero Ltd. (aircraft); Black Feather Holdings (apparel)

Programs & Initiatives: The federal government through Western Economic Diversification, provided $5 million in financial support to the Orthopaedic Innovation Centre (OIC) to develop an Advanced Digital Manufacturing Hub. A new water treatment plant, reservoir and delivery infrastructure for CentrePort Canada valued at $43 million is now in place. The RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg is undergoing a major expansion. CentrePoint, the first major private commercial development in Winnipeg’s downtown core in years, opened its doors in 2015.

Did You Know? According to the Conference Board of Canada, Winnipeg’s real GDP grew by 2.3 percent in 2015, the second-strongest economic growth among metro areas in Western Canada (behind Vancouver) and the fourth-strongest nationally. Employment growth of 3.2 percent overall was the highest among all Canadian metro areas and a 20-year high.

Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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