Even in a pandemic-stricken economy, there are clusters of economic health, persisting because of diversified and thriving business ecosystems years in the making.
Each year, we analyze corporate end-user project data from Canada on a cumulative and per-capita basis to discover our province-level Canadian Competitiveness Award winner, which this year goes once again to Ontario. We crunch the same data to derive a group of 20 regional and metro-area economic development groups representing Canada’s Best Locations.
It’s a banner time for tech. Led by Toronto at No. 4 (ahead of New York and Austin), a number of Canadian regions were noted as top-ranked or emerging tech hubs in CBRE’s annual Scoring Tech Talent report, released in July. Vancouver was No. 12. Ottawa leapt five spots to No. 14. Montreal — notable for having the lowest costs in the top 50 — was No. 16, and Calgary was No. 34.
Most promising? Among large tech talent labor pools, Canadian regions led all top tech hubs in growth from 2015 to 2019: Vancouver was No. 1 in North America in that category, growing by nearly 48% to 84,900. And even a saturated talent market like Toronto shows no signs of slowing: Its talent pool of 250,000 grew by 36.5% (fourth on the continent). Toronto and Vancouver stand out as tech talent job creators too, with Toronto adding 43,000 more tech talent jobs than tech-degree graduates, and Vancouver adding 15,507 more jobs than graduates.
“We expect that most tech-talent hubs and professions will thrive after the pandemic subsides, and many that facilitate remote work, ecommerce, social media and streaming services may have even greater growth opportunities accelerated by the COVID-19 disruption,” said Colin Yasukochi, executive director of CBRE’s Tech Insights Center. “Markets that have strong innovation infrastructure — leading universities and high concentrations of tech jobs — will lead the next growth cycle.”
Ottawa rose five spots to No. 14, based on its concentration of tech talent and Canada’s lower costs, said CBRE. The report’s “Next 25” up-and-coming markets included No. 1 Waterloo Region in Ontario, No. 6 Quebec City and No. 9 Edmonton.
All of these markets are also honorees in this year’s Canada’s Best Locations citations below.
“Tech-talent workers are the ones that have made it possible for us to remain productive during our crash course this year in remote working,” said Lexi Russell, CBRE director of research & analysis and co-author of the report. “This might entice more companies to distribute their workforce more broadly by branching into tech-talent markets outside the top 50, or even outside the top 75.”
In an interview, she says, “Canadian metro areas are often ignored in reports like this, or passed over in actual site searches by companies. Data availability continues to get better as we analyze markets and compare them to the U.S. When looking just at the depth of the tech talent labor pool, four of the five main Canadian markets — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa in that order — fall into our ‘large’ category, meaning they have more than 50,000 of this type of skilled worker, which provides a deep pool of talent.” She says Canadian markets provide a cost difference (not inclusive of business costs) that is beneficial compared to U.S. wages, have high or very high quality of labor, and have a lower cost of living compared to major U.S. metros.
In an August blog post, Dejan Velichkov, a senior investor services advisor for Invest in Canada who moved his family to Canada in 2017 after seven years in the U.S., noted why talent and the immigration policies undergirding it are a major strength.
“To grow and seize opportunities, global companies need the ability to hire quality talent with the proper skills, in a timely manner,” he wrote. “Companies also seek clarity through a straightforward and predictable process … My personal experience demonstrated how fast and predictable that process could be. By working with global companies at Invest in Canada, I have also seen first-hand how that process works for them, and how government can operate at the speed of business, removing obstacles and helping facilitate growth.”
Recent Projects: Netflix, HSBC, Amazon, GM, Fiat Chrysler
Much of the growing Canadian FDI is going to Ontario. According to the latest data available by province, Ontario had the largest share of its corporate workforce employed by a multinational, at 39.6%, and 39.8% of Ontario manufacturing jobs were at foreign multinationals. Manufacturing is the most important sector for FDI in Canada, and in Ontario that still means cars.
Among other ongoing measures, the Ontario government is investing $9.3 million in 11 training projects at auto manufacturers (Ford and Fiat Chrysler), industry associations, training providers and public universities and colleges to help approximately 2,000 people prepare for auto and advanced manufacturing careers.
“As we gradually reopen the province,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford “we are making strategic investments to train and re-train people to ensure all businesses get the talent they need, and everyone can get back to work and put food on the table to support Ontario’s economic recovery.”
Recent Projects: ConocoPhillips/Cenovus, Uline, Cargill
Among other measures, Alberta has a new film and TV tax credit program and a newly streamlined export expansion program that reduces red tape. Provincial leaders are working on a $75 million investment and growth strategy that targets priority sectors, and a 10-year tourism strategy. Alberta Enterprise Corp.’s 2018 Deal Flow Study found that 432 new Alberta tech startups had been established since 2016, bringing the number of tech companies with headquarters in the province to 1,238. There has been a 38% increase in companies with 10 or more employees, with much of the capital investment is coming from sources in Calgary or Edmonton. The Business Council of Alberta was launched in June 2019 to focus on such areas as skills training, education, environmental protection, resource development, trade and innovation. Alberta’s corporate tax rate declined to 11% from 12% on July 1, 2019, and then to 10% on January 1, 2020.
Recent Projects: West Coast Olefins, Martini Film Studios, BC Hemp
Mining and energy still draw big lump sums to B.C. But tech is ascendant: With multiple technology clusters in cities such as Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna, British Columbia is a magnet for big and small firms drawn by the province’s diverse and highly skilled tech talent, reports Trade and Invest B.C. “Vancouver has 800-1,100 tech start-ups contributing to a vibrant tech ecosystem with abundant, innovative talent,” says the ministry. “The tech sector in Greater Victoria also experienced significant growth over the past decade, with industry revenues increasing more than fourfold from $1 billion in 2004 to $4 billion in 2017. Additionally, the Okanagan tech sector has witnessed a year-over-year economic growth of 15% since 2013 and is now estimated to contribute $1.67 billion to the region’s economy.”
Significant Projects: CN/Wapahki Energy Ltd, International Petroleum Corp., G3 Canada Ltd.
The northeast Alberta region this organization and its 43 members represent is a triangle corridor defined by Edmonton, the Saskatchewan border and the resource-rich areas to the north leading to Fort McMurray. In addition to the billions of dollars invested in oil and gas, the region also boasts a diverse agricultural sector, with 3 million cultivated acres. One of the area’s gems is Lakeland College, with 6,400 students at campuses in Lloydminster and Vermilion and recent research awards to support animal science and commercial ag research, as well as a $4 million gift to establish a bison operation.
Significant Projects: Hypoint Company, Grissin Bon Ltd., Brimich Logistics
The expansion by Grissin Bon is part of a food and beverage sector that employs over 2,300 people and operates in facilities totaling in excess of 2.7 million sq. ft. throughout the city. Other target sectors for the area include advanced manufacturing; film, television, and digital media; plastic and rubber products; and warehousing and distribution. There is room for all of them to grow: In 2017, a boundary adjustment resulted in 2,720 hectares (6,720 acres) of new lands transferred to the City of Brantford, ensuring continued growth with 739 hectares (1,825 acres) of employment lands north of the busy highway 403.
Recent projects: Amazon, Lowe’s, Copart, Finger Food Advanced Technology Group
The Business and Local Economy team was formed by The City of Calgary in October 2019 to identify opportunities for cutting red tape and streamlining processes. In January 2020 business license fees were reduced by 10% and fees for moving businesses were removed. In February 2020, the city launched improved services to MyBusiness to start and open a business faster. Progress continues via downtown revitalization, digital economy initiatives, the Calgary Film Commission and a steady influx of newcomers that has made Calgary Canada’s third most ethnically diverse city.
Recent projects: Telus, Apex Distribution, Wawanesa Mutual Insurance, Silent-Aire
First-generation newcomers make up 23% of the Edmonton region’s population. Moreover, the region is the second youngest in Canada, with a median age of 36. A recent report on artificial intelligence from Invest in Canada highlighted Edmonton’s strengths: The University of Alberta in Edmonton is one of the top five AI research institutions in the world, and the city is also home to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. Among other projects, the new Food Processing Development Centre is coming to Leduc thanks in part to more than $2.6 million in federal funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada.
Recent projects: Wattpad, Axis Capital, Warehouse Transport Group
Halifax in 2019 produced nearly $21 billion in GDP from a population of just over 440,000. That population is growing, having experienced four consecutive years of record growth that culminated in 10,000 newcomers in 2019 — fourth-fastest in the country. The region continues to focus on the target sectors of financial services (more than 1,000 firms); ocean technology; IT, gaming and digital media; transportation and logistics; and health and life sciences. Some 60 retailers are working with the Halifax Partnership in eBay’s first Canadian Retail Revival program, which selected Halifax based on the strength and diversity of the small business community, the growth opportunity for e-commerce and exporting, and its vision for local economic growth.
Recent projects: Mondelez International, DHL Express, Walters Group, Harris Corp.
Among the strongest-performing metros in terms of its overall corporate project investment and job creation scorecard, Hamilton continues to focus on such sectors as ICT and digital media, and advanced manufacturing. Among its initiatives over the past year were a major trade mission to India; participation in Consider Canada City Alliance/Global Affairs Canada road shows targeting Japan, Brazil and Mexico; and missions to Mexico and the U.S. as part of a Hamilton-Niagara Partnership FDI initiative focused on the Pan-American countries. Meanwhile, the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority is teaming with Max Aicher North America to open up 24 hectares (60 acres) of former U.S. Steel land for waterfront development.
Recent projects: Aspire Food Group, Cardiff Products, ANVO Laboratories, The Original Cakerie
London’s fastest-growing and key sectors include agri-food; manufacturing; digital media + tech; health; and professional services. Among the major projects to land in the region in the past year is Oakville-based drug distributor ANVO Laboratories’ decision to launch a new generic drug manufacturing business in London’s Advanced Manufacturing Park. Owner and founder Tam Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, cited availability of workers from Western University and Fanshawe College, affordable land and construction costs and the area’s strong industrial and health-care clusters.
Recent projects: Bombardier, Hilti Canada, Walmart Canada, Sire Bioscience, Microbix
More than 30 projects dot Mississauga’s spreadsheet over the past year, including a number in the rapidly expanding food and beverage sector. But while many think logistics when they think of the city near Toronto Pearson International Airport, its leading employment sectors in 2019 were information & communications technology and financial services. A new five-year economic development strategy “reveals Mississauga’s growth potential by nurturing more new business start-ups, embedding innovation in its companies, and attracting investment for its established larger businesses and its smaller enterprises,” said Bonnie Brown earlier this year. Mississauga’s business community as of early 2020 featured more than 30,600 businesses with employees, 1,400 multinational firms and 76 Fortune 500 firms. Employment grew by 6.6% over the 2014-2019 period, twice as fast as the city’s population.
Recent projects: Mitsubishi Aircraft, Reel FX, Google, Alten Canada
In a record year in 2019, Montréal International supported 89 projects for investments totaling over $2.64 billion that created more than 7,700 jobs, the organization reported in its annual report. That total represents 164% of the investment attracted in 2015. Software; visual effects and animation; aerospace; video games and IT led the way. “The Montréal International team also facilitated the recruitment of more than a thousand international skilled workers, and played a strategic role in two international organizations setting up in Greater Montréal, while creating another from scratch at the request of the Government of Québec,” the report continued. The former were an Indian tech organization, ZMQ Global, focused on supporting marginalized communities, and global food security organization GODAN, which moved its HQ from Oxford in the UK. The latter was a new francophone organization for equality and diversity called Égides. The group’s project portfolio remains full. Though some might be postponed, wrote Stéphane Paquet, most are expected to materialize. Accordingly, he wrote, “it is vital that we maintain our strategy of being open to the world.”
Recent projects: Norgalv Ltd., Canada Meat Group, Designed Roofing
With a population of 51,553 that’s just above the standard definition of a micropolitan area, North Bay attracts more than its share of projects, from heavy industry to food to film and TV productions. “I can honestly say that the decision to locate in North Bay was made easy due to the hard work, drive and assistance from all levels of government,” said Andre van Soelen, managing director of Norgalv Limited, at the August 2020 concrete floor pour for Norgalv’s $21 million galvanizing plant in the city’s Airport Industrial Business Park. Though 3.5 hours from Toronto and Ottawa, the “Gateway to the North” is located at the crossroads of transcontinental highways, railways, air and fiber-optic routes and thus provides a link to the north, south, east and west for transportation and communication activities.
Recent projects: Collins Aerospace, Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services, Prodigy Education
As a 10-year economic development strategy draws to a close for this Toronto suburb on Lake Ontario, a new five-year strategy through 2024 was unveiled last year. Its three goals focus on attracting new investment, responding to the needs of local businesses and supporting the vibrancy of the downtown, Kerr Village and Bronte Village commercial districts in the town of 211,000 that MoneySense magazine in 2018 called the best place to live in Canada. With large employers including Ford, Canadian Tire and Aviva and plenty of employment lands for expansion, the town is focused on emerging clusters in additive manufacturing; life sciences and digital health; animation and gaming; and emerging technologies.
Recent projects: Amazon, Broccolini, Giant Tiger
The new CBRE Tech Talent report reveals that Ottawa jumped up five spots to No. 14, higher than Montreal, Salt Lake City and Chicago. Invest Ottawa Vice President, Global Expansion Jens-Michael Schaal wrote in a recent blog post that Ottawa routinely outranks other cities in value for talent due to lower office and residential real estate costs. But the talent pool has been building, for some time. “Active recruiting by major players from Nokia to Shopify, 65 federal research labs, and top tier STEM programs at our universities and colleges bring talented people from around the world to Ottawa,” he says. Microsoft, Invest Ottawa and accelerator Bayview Yards early this year launched the Microsoft for Startups program. “Innovative startups like MindBridge AI call Ottawa home because of the access to world-class talent and resources,” said Kevin Peesker, president, Microsoft Canada, “and this collaboration with Invest Ottawa will help them continue to lift up underrepresented voices in tech and drive more public sector startup innovation.”
Recent projects: Acero Groupe, Hydromec, Archibald,
With a population of nearly 1.2 million, the provincial capital saw more than 5,100 jobs created in the April 2019-March 2020 time frame. Life sciences continues to be a vibrant sector, including companies at Quebec International’s own Le Camp incubator-accelerator, which this summer welcomed expanded R&D from BioMark Diagnostics. Photonics, which contributes $3 billion annual to Canada’s GDP, is another area emerging in the region, according to Optonique, Québec’s center of excellence in optics-photonics based in Québec City. Today all markets have higher unemployment, but look for the positive long-term talent trends to continue. Québec City registered an unemployment rate of 3.1% in 2019, the lowest rate in Canada, thanks to the net creation of 6,900 jobs, and even as the labor force gained 3,600 people, the third annual increase.
Recent projects: Forge Hydrocarbons, LCY Biosciences, Woodland Biofuels
Heavy industry is Sarnia-Lambton’s calling card. Which is why one important project moving forward is the Sarnia-Lambton oversized load corridor, backed in part by a $4 million donation on behalf of Cestar College of Business, Health and Technology. The corridor is a designated protected route on existing roadways connecting fabricators to the Port of Sarnia for the unimpeded import/export and trans-shipment of oversized product to and from fabricators’ locations and Sarnia-Lambton’s industrial base. Clear passage will improve the competitiveness of local fabricators and large industry. Among the positive trends in this legacy energy industry region is an increase in population, accompanied by the finding by U-Haul trucks that Sarnia, after going unranked in 2018, was the country’s No. 15 growth city, as tracked by net one-way U-Haul truck trips to the area.
Recent projects: Google, Didi Chuxing, SHYFTinc, Virox Technologies
The Toronto region welcomes 100,000 new immigrants annually to a populate that now numbers more than 6.4 million. As of publication of its 2019-2020 global business plan in October 2019, Toronto Global — which represents Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton and the Regions of Durham, Halton (home to Oakville, above), and York — had facilitated 60 new investments into the Toronto Region, representing 3,504 direct jobs and capex of nearly $497 million, since its official launch in February 2017. The business plan reinforces a concerted effort to attract and work projects in “the 905,” that is, in the region and not necessarily in the city proper. Among the organization’s strongest planks is its trade missions: Toronto Global conducted 30 of them in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Another? The young agency looked to Montréal International and its 26 years of experience for best practices when it comes to regional collaboration and global connectivity.
Recent projects: Mastercard, Vaudeville Sound, Fujitsu
An update issued in September 2019 revealed that film and TV productions spent $3.8 billion in the Vancouver region in 2018, and had spent $18.7 billion since 2012, including paying British Columbians $10.2 billion in salaries and wages. Backed by funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada, the VEC will lead development of the Technology Deployment Network (TDN) — an online platform that connects large institutions with innovators to develop clean technology solutions — and develop a strategy to promote Greater Vancouver as an e-sports hub. Recent research indicated that metro Vancouver was home to between 60% and 75% of the roughly 105,000 tech workers across 10,000 companies in British Columbia.
Recent projects: AirBoss, Nasarc Technologies, ATS, Precision Resource Canada
Google plans to more than triple its work force in Canada over the next three years to as many as 5,000 employees across Toronto, Montréal and Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo region. The biggest growth will come in Kitchener, where it could have up to 3,000 employees working by 2022. “Google has carefully and steadily grown its mandate and presence in Waterloo to become a major, collaborative anchor company in our globally significant tech scene,” said Tony LaMantia in February. A Deloitte study released in November 2019 concluded that the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurship programming (not even counting its engineering and other aspects) have contributed more than $2 billion in economic impact. In October, BlackBerry launched a new cybersecurity R&D lab in Waterloo, and Ford revealed that it had quietly built up a team of 150 in Waterloo that it was introducing as the Waterloo Connectivity and Innovation Centre.
Recent projects: Eltromex, BASF, Gerdau Ameristeel, Brave Control Solutions
WindsorEssex EDC supported more than $102.4 million in investments that led to the creation of 1,038 jobs in 2019. And it helped attract $8.3 million in government grants to support and further develop the automobility innovation cluster. The team recently conducted trade missions to India, Israel and Germany, and likewise welcomed several delegations from regions in Mexico. Locally, the WindsorEssex Small Business Centr, Workforce WindsorEssex, the Windsor Essex Capital Angel Network and others have launched RISE, a network of organizations aimed at empowering women in entrepreneurship and women in STEM.
Recent projects: AgraFlora Organics Intl./The Edibles and Infusions Corp., Skipthedishes, Merit Functional Foods
Among EDW’s activities over the past year were a tech talent mission to Argentina that resulted in 28 job offers, and outreach to companies in Germany, the U.S., France and UK, especially in such target sectors as creative industries, aerospace and ICT. A talent mission closer to home took place this spring as the global pandemic took hold. The organization’s YES! Winnipeg Talent team reached out to help companies who wanted to network with others to fill their talent needs, as North West Co. looked to hire 50 people at its warehouse and other positions, and 24-7 Intouch looked to hire for 400 positions, from work-at-home service reps to senior software developer and analyst. Meanwhile, the organization’s enhanced web resources for site selectors highlight improved data tables and strengths such as its low utility costs, improved educational attainment and workforce development programs for a young populace that has grown by 43,000 over the past three years to nearly 870,000.
Recent projects: Grizzly Oil Sands, Suncor Energy, Oak Point Energy
With 110,000 people in the urban service area and nearly half the population between 20 and 44, the region is ready to break out from its oilsands-dependent economy even as it continues to depend on it. Recently, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo oversized basic infrastructure (water, roads, sewer), positioning the region to accommodate more than double the current population. Saline Creek and Parsons Creek are two new neighborhoods set to accommodate up to 44,000 people and large-scale commercial development, and River Station District is a new waterfront community in downtown Fort McMurray. The area was recently ranked as Canada’s second most affordable place to live, and a new retail attraction campaign was launched in December 2019.
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.