Downtown Ottawa, Ontario on a sunny, summer morning.

Welcome to Invest in Ontario’s latest in a series of regional spotlights showcasing the diverse municipalities spread across our province. Each month we will post a feature highlighting a unique region and what makes it special from both a business and lifestyle standpoint. As always, it will be in their own words. Here’s the next in our lineup from our friends in the nation’s capital.

Despite the impacts and uncertainty of COVID-19, Ottawa’s technology sector has proven to be resilient and shows reasons for optimism. The good news includes the launch of Area X.O, a state-of-the-art mobility and connected technologies testing site and an announcement that Silicon Valley tech giant Gigamon is setting up an R&D facility in Ottawa, joining other new arrivals to the city.

Area X.O itself is sure to attract more international investors. Evolving from the cutting-edge Ottawa L5 Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Test Facility, it is the first of its kind in North America and offers assets and infrastructure for testing everything from a mobile command centre, self-driving pods and vehicles to drones; all in a four-season climate with wide-ranging conditions and temperatures.

Area X.O. test facility in Ottawa, Ontario
Area X.O. test facility in Ottawa, Ontario

On top of that, CBRE Group Inc. recently reported that Ottawa has the highest concentration of technology talent in its labour force in North America, even edging out Silicon Valley. Then, in the spring, Ottawa software powerhouse Shopify eclipsed Royal Bank of Canada to become the nation’s largest public company. Today, Ottawa’s tech sector represents 11.3 per cent of employment in Ottawa.

All told, Ottawa’s position as a tech hub is secure as more and more international companies choose the city as their North American expansion home.

Invest Ottawa's new vice-president of global expansion Jens-Michael Schaal
Jens-Michael Schaal, Invest Ottawa’s Vice-President of Global Expansion at Invest Ottawa

“When you look at the mixture of existing senior talent, combined with what’s coming out of our universities and colleges, Ottawa is a very compelling story for many companies,” says Jens-Michael Schaal, Invest Ottawa’s Vice-President of Global Expansion.

Gigamon was attracted to the talent and ecosystem.

“When reviewing potential expansion opportunities in North America, we considered a number of attractive options,” says Shane Buckley, president and CEO at Gigamon. “Ottawa’s diverse workforce and bustling tech community made it the clear choice.”

But it’s not talent alone. Ottawa’s winning ways include several areas of deep tech expertise; a dynamic ecosystem; a diverse talent pool, strong research capabilities, an exceptional quality of life and cost-effectiveness.

When it comes to cost, the average salary for software engineers in Ottawa is half that of a Silicon Valley engineer, so highly skilled talent comes at a lower price.

For TSMC, the world’s largest semiconductor foundry which has a Design Center in Ottawa, workforce diversity was a factor. “TSMC’s Ottawa Design Center (ODC) has nearly 20 different nationalities among its 80-person staff,” says Cormac O’Connell, Director of TSMC’s Ottawa Design Center.

The chip manufacturing process at TSMC
The chip manufacturing process at TSMC

In a show of optimism, TSMC’s ODC is expanding its workforce of designers to serve customers in North America and other regions around the world.

“We not only seek to support a diverse and flourishing semiconductor ecosystem in Canada and North America, we hope to tap those resources to benefit our customers around the world,” says Cormac.

Geography is also an enticement for foreign companies.

“If you draw a 400-kilometre circle around Ottawa, you’re reaching 20 million people,” Schaal says. “If you do the same thing in Toronto, you’re reaching 15 million, in Montreal, you reach 10 million. Ottawa has a good reach to these different marketplaces.”

That, he says, is partly what convinced global giant Amazon to open its second Ottawa fulfillment centre within two years.

Two other recent success stories — again, amid the second wave of a global pandemic — involve the arrival of Dutch telecom equipment design house, AimValley and the arrival of Catalyst, a major player in open-source software as a service. AimValley said the Ottawa workforce’s reputation for employer loyalty tipped the scales for it. Studies show Ottawa engineers don’t do as much job-hopping as their counterparts elsewhere. Catalyst liked the city’s quality of life and proximity to Montreal and Toronto.

All lauded Invest Ottawa’s help in their “soft landings.” Schaal says Invest Ottawa’s Global Expansion Team, with specialization in several sectors, is there to offer customized help to all global investors considering Ottawa.

“We work with clients while they’re making the decision,” he says. “We support them, supply office space options, help them find staff and raise their profile in our community. We also work really closely with government partners at all levels to identify applicable programs for our clients. Once the company has been here a year, their file moves to our business retention and expansion team, which works to help them grow their Ottawa presence. This ensures a service continuum for our clients.”

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