598 words | 2 minutes
More and more multinational companies looking to expand into the North American markets are shopping north of the US/Canadian border for a home base. With its thriving telecommunications, cybersecurity, and life sciences industries, as well as its multilingual residents, comprehensive education programs and competitive commercial real estate market, Ottawa is exactly where everyone wants to be.
On the most recent episode of Invested in Our New Reality, a podcast from Invest Ottawa where business leaders and big thinkers meet to share ideas, Invest Ottawa’s Jens-Michael Schaal stopped by to discuss this city and his role as a salesperson for Ottawa.
Schaal is the Vice President of Global Expansion at Invest Ottawa, overseeing the Foreign Direct Investment team and the Business Retention and Expansion Team. His goal? To attract new companies to the city and support the ones that already call it home.
He joined podcast host Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh, founder of SHM Consulting, and much-admired leader in the Ottawa business community, to explain to listeners the many reasons why Ottawa is growing in popularity.
The main reason: telecommunications research.
“Ottawa is responsible for roughly 90% of all industrial telecommunications research in Canada,” says Schaal. “It’s no secret anymore. The world knows that.”
Pre-Covid, Schaal and his team would undertake nearly 30 international trips a year to entice more businesses to set up shop in Ottawa. They focussed on the United States, Northern and Western Europe, South and East Asia.
But, nearly two years later, the world has changed, and telecommunications is more important than ever.
“For the last 20 months, telecom was basically what kept us going, what allows us to do things – Zoom, Teams and podcasts. It’s an area where we see a lot of growth.”
COVID-19 may have grounded business travellers, but telecommunications kept industries afloat and demonstrated the many advantages of virtual work. No longer constrained by ordinary travel obstacles or logistics, today’s meetings include people from around the world rather than people who were able to be in a certain place at a certain time.
The many pros of this kind of virtual, remote work are here to stay, Schaal says.
But if the future is virtual, why do companies even need a home city?
“My team deals with a lot of companies that do research and development, including hardware, in fields like telecommunications, defense, life science, and more. That kind of work cannot be done from home,” Schaal says. “Folks need to be in a lab to figure these things out.”
Ottawa is an ideal place for those labs. In fact, there are 65 federal research labs in this city already, including the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre and a handful of other incubators and accelerators.
Not surprisingly, Canada is an attractive country for companies looking to gain a foothold in the North American marketplace. The talent here is well-trained and well-educated, there are well-established trade agreements with the US, Mexico, and the European Union, and we have an open immigration system.
Ottawa has a major cost advantage over the United States and other major Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. Well-situated, it enjoys a consumer market of roughly 18 million people within 400 kilometres.
“Toronto and Montreal are 14 and 10 million respectively,” Schaal says.
Coupled with lower operating costs and a welcoming atmosphere, Ottawa is a great option – and an increasingly easy sell – for companies looking to expand.
“Ottawa enjoys a really enviable innovation culture. That’s certainly attractive.”