The Canada House in London's Trafalgar Square
The Canada House in London's Trafalgar Square.

By: Aaron Rosland, Senior Economic Officer, United Kingdom

Aaron Rosland
Aaron Rosland, Senior Economic Officer, United Kingdom

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a rollercoaster of professional ups and downs for businesses both big and small. In my nine years as a Canadian diplomat, I can safely say that this has been one of the most challenging, but interesting times in my career.

As we move into the month of October, more than half a year into the global crisis, I can’t help but reflect on how the world has pivoted to tackle the challenges brought on by COVID-19 – particularly in my province of Ontario.

Here in London, I’m the chief representative for Ontario to the United Kingdom and Ireland. I promote Ontario as a destination for foreign investment, develop commercial and sales networks for Ontario businesses, facilitate business introductions, provide market intelligence for decision-making and advocate on behalf of Ontario’s international interests.

I can see how this would seem like a particularly difficult task in the middle of a pandemic − but somehow, promoting Ontario and all it has to offer remains one of the easiest parts of my job.

It certainly helps that the province is such an attractive place to invest: with a highly-educated talent pool, and a central location in the heart of North America, the companies I work with choose Ontario because of our competitive economy, and access to market.

But it’s also the resilience and creativity of Ontario’s ecosystem that shines through during a time of crisis. Many companies across the province have worked tirelessly to adapt their business models and find solutions to face the global pandemic head on.

That spirit is what fundamentally makes the province so special.

But like many of these incredible companies, my office has had to find opportunity in the unpredictable. We have also had to pivot our strategies to make sure we are providing our clients the top-quality service they have come to expect from us.

It’s clear that in a time when everything seems uncertain and unknown, the stability and insight of government economic development agencies is more important than ever. For companies looking to expand internationally, they need to minimize risk as much as possible, and my team can help with that.

On top of the intelligence, guidance and contacts we normally offer to potential investors, we’re going a step further. Since many executives are unable to travel to explore Ontario, my team is hosting video tours of offices, stores, and cities for them. This gives companies access to the first-hand market intelligence they only get if they are in person.

With the world moving to a digital realm faster than ever, it’s important companies consider their telepresence to help them grow in the global marketplace.

For example, my office works closely with our Ministry colleagues on the development of virtual trade shows in a variety of sectors. These virtual “missions” are enabling Ontario companies to access markets, information and buyers without incurring costs or leaving the commercial responsibilities of home. It also allows prospective international clients the chance to see the province’s innovations up close, without having to ever board an airplane. During a recent Broadcasting Technology virtual mission, Ontario heard about the UK’s broadcasting sector and presented their solutions to British Telecom’s Chief Technology Officer.

With the wider acceptance of virtual meetings, we truly have the chance to take our digitization to the next level. In fact, ARHT Media, a Toronto-based company has hologram technology which allows for the capture, transmission, and display of the most lifelike digital human holograms! They even have a demo studio in London!

As we slowly make our way into the close of 2020, I am already thinking about our next steps as an office.

My key priority for the coming year is to help my team and clients thrive in a remote and uncertain business environment.

For my team, I want them to embrace the opportunities that remote working has offered. That is, unprecedented access to decision-makers, openness to innovative client service models, and increased reliance on government insight.

For my clients, I want them to look to my team as a trusted source of information and guidance. I want them to know they have a partner in us, one that nimbly adapts to and fills any “gaps” they might now have in their businesses. My team is equipped to support them with information that will help them make confident decisions and undertake successful initiatives.

With only three months left in the turbulent year of 2020, I look forward to working with UK and Ontario companies to rebuild, regrow, and find opportunity in the unpredictable.

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