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From Site Selection magazine, January 2020

Natural Advantages

How Western Canadian cities measure up in the tech world.

The sparkling natural environment of Victoria, British Columbia, is proving ideal for tech-firm growth.
Image courtesy of Tourism Victoria


Scoring Canadian Tech Talent is CBRE Research’s analysis of labor market conditions, cost and quality for high-skilled tech workers across 20 Canadian cities ranked according to their competitive advantages and appeal to tech workers and tech employers. The scorecard assesses 13 different metrics to gauge the competitive advantages of Canadian cities and their ability to attract and grow tech talent pools.

How do the Western Canadian provinces perform? Here are the top 10 Canadian cities in rank order, with their respective scores and their movement compared to the previous scorecard:

City Tech Talent Score
1. Toronto, ON 88.1
2. Ottawa, ON 73.1
3. Vancouver, BC 71.4 ( 1)
4. Waterloo Region, ON 69.4 ( 1)
5. Montreal, QC 69.3
6. Calgary, AB 53.9 ( 2)
7. Victoria, BC 53.7 ( 3)
8. Quebec City, QC 50.2
9. Hamilton, ON 48.7
10. Edmonton, AB 48.2 ( 1)

Among the issues facing the top-performing markets: No. 1 Toronto and No. 3 Vancouver have the lowest downtown office vacancy rates in all of North America, at 2.4% and 2.6%, respectively. That’s due in part to tech taking up all the space. CBRE reports that the tech industry accounts for 17.1% of major office leasing activity since the start of 2018.

Does that present opportunities for Western cities on the make? “Impressive results in Alberta’s capital saw Edmonton improve its score by over 10 points, the largest score improvement of any market,” CBRE reported. And Victoria, British Columbia, (along with Oshawa, Ontario), showed the biggest year-over-year improvement, jumping up three spots to No. 7.

According to CBRE’s analysis of Statistics Canada’s numbers, the tech talent labor pools have grown substantially by percentage in every western Canadian market except Calgary:

Market Tech Talent Total 5-Yr. Growth 5-Yr. Growth by %
Vancouver, BC 74,700 22,300 42.6%
Calgary, AB 38,500 -2,800 -6.8%
Winnipeg, MB 15,600 700 4.7%
Victoria, BC 9,600 1,300 15.7%
Regina, SK 7,900 3,200 68.1%
Saskatoon, SK 4,500 600 15.4%

Vancouver is No. 3 overall, No. 3 in its tally of tech degree completions (with more than 2,500 in 2017) and No. 3 in total venture capital tech deals over 2018 and H1 2019, with 98 deals valued at $558 million. Major tech tenant deals have landed in the city from such firms as Kabam, Slack, Apple, Greenlight Innovation and Creation Technologies.

While Calgary’s combined real estate and salary costs still stand head and shoulders above many other Canadian markets, Victoria seems to be hitting more of a sweet spot for companies and talent alike. Its average software developer wage of C$77,563 is significantly lower than the average of $84,261 in Vancouver, just a ferry ride away.

Other Yardsticks

An economic impact study released by the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council (VIATEC) in fall 2018 found that the tech sector had grown by 30% since the previous study was released in 2013, reaching a total economic impact of $5.22 billion and employing 16,775 people. Industry revenues (direct impact) increased from $1 billion in 2004 to $4 billion in 2017. The number of tech firms in Greater Victoria was expected to surpass 1,000 before 2020, projected VIATEC, which has adopted a strategic plan focused on growing the region’s tech sector to $10 billion in annual revenues by 2030.

Among other indicators in western Canada, Alberta Enterprise Corp.’s 2018 Deal Flow Study found that 432 new Alberta tech startups had been established since 2016, bringing the total number of tech companies with headquarters in the province to 1,238. The study also found that female participation in the tech sector in Alberta is over twice the national average, with 30% of tech firms in Alberta having a female founder or co-founder. There has been a 38% increase in companies with 10 or more employees.

The BC Technology Report Card for 2018 from KPMG gave the province an “A” grade for the first time in comparison to other provinces’ tech economies. BC’s tech sector is responsible for 7% of the province’s economy and is ranked No. 1 among the province’s various industries in terms of growth. It’s not all in Vancouver either: “The Okanagan tech sector has grown 15% each year since 2013, and we’re now home to almost 700 technology companies,” said Raghwa Gopal, CEO of Accelerate Okanagan.

SaskTech, an advocacy group representing over 50 technology companies across Saskatchewan, announced in early 2019 that over 220 jobs were created by its members during the first nine months of 2018, and that the growth rate of Saskatchewan-based tech companies had averaged 100% in the previous year. Open positions were set to double, but only if qualified candidates could be found.

“Our members understand the opportunity in Saskatchewan to build a world-class tech industry,” said Aaron Genest, president of SaskTech. “but require the support of all levels of government to ensure that we can continue to add high-paid, stable employment to our provincial workforce.”

Some areas are taking matters into their own hands, aided by the federal government. Economic Development Winnipeg Inc. (EDW) in October led a talent mission to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Winnipeg is a multicultural city that is well-positioned to welcome top talent from around the world,” said Dayna Spiring, President & CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg. “We want to show qualified tech professionals in other countries how rewarding a career in Winnipeg can be and the many advantages of living here, while helping local companies meet a challenge they regularly face.”

The mission was advertised in Buenos Aires in hopes of attracting qualified candidates for positions such as senior software developer, web designer and data scientist. More than 2,000 resumes expressing interest in these Winnipeg-based positions were triaged in relation to this mission.

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since 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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