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International expansion in the age of remote work

Tony LaMantia, President & CEO of Waterloo EDC, shares his thoughts on how remote work has - or hasn't - changed business expansion.

In a new editorial for, Waterloo EDC President & CEO Tony LaMantia argued that – while much has changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – the principles of recruitment and business expansion have not.

The impetus for the article is that there’s an idea floating around that in a remote-first world there isn’t a reason to expand a tech company footprint into new communities and ecosystems. It seems intuitive, but it’s wrong.

Global foreign direct investment is setting records – companies are making new investments at an incredible rate – and that’s the Waterloo EDC experience, too. In 2021, we helped welcome more than $360 million in new business investment.

Here are the three highlights from the editorial:

Don’t expect this to be the “new normal”

“There’s a danger in believing that anything happening right now is a “new normal.” We don’t know what the new normal is, yet, and so growth-oriented businesses continue to follow the best practices for expansion. They need to grow – this isn’t something that can wait.”

To re-iterate what we said in the intro – if the new normal was simply hiring remotely you wouldn’t see organizations like Waterloo EDC landing record amounts of new investment.

There are reasons for cautious optimism regarding return-to-office plans, easier travel, etc., that suggest what we’re experiencing right now isn’t “normal” but simply another step on the road back to greater stability.

Talent is still #1 in tech

“Recruiting is easier when you’re where the talent is. Google knows this. They’re continuing to expand their footprint aggressively around the world, including in Waterloo where they’re building a new facility to house the 3,000+ workers in their Canadian engineering headquarters. They aren’t here for fun – talent is serious business and it requires a serious investment.”

As Tony says in a different part of the article – talent is the first thing that comes up every time we talk to tech companies.

Lucky for us, we have a great talent story. The University of Waterloo is home to the largest engineering school in Canada, is top-ranked in Canada for engineering and computer science, and top-25 globally for computer science.

Waterloo was recently named the #1 small tech talent market in North America by CBRE. As long as tech continues to lead discussions, Waterloo will continue to be a strong option for tech companies looking to expand.

It isn’t just companies like Google doubling down on Waterloo tech talent. Growing local companies like ApplyBoard, Faire and Arctic Wolf are leveraging our unique talent pool to massively scale their businesses, too.

Ecosystems don’t move

“Despite all the changes, I’m confident that the best reason to expand is to tap into a new ecosystem, and ecosystems don’t move. Ecosystems have culture. Ecosystems have resources. Ecosystems have community.”

If you aren’t convinced by the “come for the talent” argument – you think remote recruitment is just fine – then perhaps this one will change your mind. Talent can move, but communities with a unique culture, location, set of resources and business ecosystem can’t.

If you come to Waterloo, you can tap into Communitech’s program offerings, the University of Waterloo’s leading autotech, artificial intelligence or quantum research, proximity to Toronto – one of North America’s great cities – and more. You can’t do that from Silicon Valley, Austin or Sao Paolo.

An opportunity to expand while minimizing risk

“We’re seeing companies take baby steps – they find a local lead and build the team without an office. Then they grab desks in a local co-working space. Eventually, they move to a larger, dedicated office. It de-risks the entire expansion process.”

COVID-19 is changing how business expansions work. The pressure to sign a lease on your first day in a new community is gone. The pressure to acquire a massive office space is gone.

Remote work has made it possible for your company to gain the benefits of expansion – joining a new community like Waterloo – without the overhead costs. That means you can scale your new office as quickly or slowly as you like. – a leading source of the information, resources, products and services human resources professionals need – has a paywall, which means many non-HR professionals won’t be able to read the full article. If you do have an membership, you can access the article here.

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Want to learn more about how Waterloo EDC can help your company expand to our community? Get in touch with one of our market development experts.