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What makes a mid-sized tech hub boom?

Five thoughts on what makes mid-sized communities such a great option for tech companies from leaders at Google, ApplyBoard and more.

The Future Economy, a publication that casts a focused eye on the forces and industries shaping Canada’s economic future, published a new feature series last week about Waterloo.

The series itself, which you can read on their website, hinges on the idea that mid-sized communities like Waterloo provide a unique opportunity for companies looking to grow.

What’s so special about mid-sized communities? We’ve written  about why these communities are ideal locations for talent attraction and why all mid-sized communities aren’t necessarily equal.

To get their own answer, The Future Economy spoke with leaders from Google, ApplyBoard, Clearpath Robotics, Communitech and Waterloo EDC about what makes Waterloo so special.

Here are five of the highlights:

Talent is still tops for growing companies

“Waterloo has an astounding array of education in engineering, computer science and mathematics. It has the largest computer science and computer engineering school in the world by the number of students and one of the highest in terms of quality of undergraduates on a par with or in some categories better than schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University.” – Steve Woods, Senior Director of Engineering & Engineering Lead – Google Canada

This one is a no-brainer. Ask tech companies what they need – the answer is talent. You’ll get the same answer when talking to most manufacturers, too.

Woods goes on to explain that while the University of Waterloo gets a lot of attention for its incredible tech programs, the community also benefits from Wilfrid Laurier University’s strength in business and Conestoga College’s wide array of programs producing work-ready talent in robotics, computer programming and business functions like marketing and accounting.

If there’s a single reason why multinationals like Google and SAP, scaling companies like ApplyBoard and Faire and hundreds of startups are in Waterloo, it’s access to top talent.

Click here to read Steve Woods’ full interview.

" It is so close to Toronto so you have access to that huge region for anything that you need, but on a day-to-day basis, it is a smaller area so you have the advantage of not dealing with heavy traffic or those things that very big cities bring. This makes you more efficient and productive. "

Martin Basiri

CEO and Co-Founder, ApplyBoard

Location, location, location

It’s a maxim in real estate and a maxim in site selection for a reason. As we’ve previously written, not every mid-size community is right next to a major metropolitan area. Waterloo is right next to Toronto – that’s why we call it the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor – and it comes with all kinds of advantages, from talent to market access to funding.

But it doesn’t stop there – we’re also pretty close to the United States market, too. This means accessing the world’s largest economy without the instability and uncertainty, while adding a few other advantages.

“As a Canadian entity, you take advantage of a tremendous number of government programs that allow and support innovation to happen in a very efficient and effective manner. Coupled with the Canadian dollar, if you are a foreign investor looking to deploy your dollars in an efficient and effective manner, you gain a tremendous amount of leverage. As such, you are able to access the market that the United States presents with great ease, while still taking advantage of initiatives and support structures that just simply do not exist in the United States.” – Matt Rendall, CEO and Co-Founder, Clearpath Robotics

Click here to read Martin Basiri’s full interview.

A diverse ecosystem is a big advantage

“Waterloo Region has long had a history of reinventing itself and we have strong manufacturing, agriculture, finance and insurance, post-secondary education and technology sectors. They all coexist in a very nice, diverse mix within the local economy.” – Avvey Peters, Chief Strategy Officer, Communitech

One thing that really sets Waterloo apart is the diversity of our ecosystem – it isn’t common to find such strong manufacturing and tech ecosystems layered on top of each other.

We’re also in the middle of Canada’s largest automotive corridor, Canada’s largest manufacturing corridor and we’re part of the second largest technology cluster in North America. This diversity brings all sorts of advantages, including the collision between industries needed to innovate.

Click here to read Avvey Peters’ full interview.

A better life for less money

“When you look at Waterloo Region, even before COVID-19, it straddles a really interesting balance of the amenities of a big city with the cost of living and the space of a smaller community. From a quality of life adjusted for cost of living perspective, you end up with a tremendous value proposition in Waterloo.” – Matt Rendall, CEO and Co-Founder, Clearpath Robotics

Quality of life is important, particularly for more mature employees with children. Yes, entertainment is wonderful, but so is access to good schools, reasonable housing costs and recreation opportunities. Waterloo is within 100km/65mi of Toronto’s theatre and sports offerings and has everything you’d need to be happy and healthy – without breaking the bank – within its own borders.

“Waterloo, because of the nature of the community and where we are situated, has a lot of advantages for quality of life. We are a mid-sized city, but we are surrounded by some of Ontario’s best agriculture and farmland. It is a very green place and there is a lot of opportunity to get outside and enjoy our trail system and parks.” – Avvey Peters, Chief Strategy Officer, Communitech

Click here to read Matt Rendall’s full interview.

Collision, collaboration and convergence drive innovation

“Within our community of just over 600,000 people, you have a lot of density and everything is within a short walking distance to a number of the hubs, accelerators and research institutions. Waterloo has a very strong value proposition in a world where it is increasingly less critical to be in large cities. Multinationals are looking at secondary cities because of the density, but also because of the ability for collision and convergence.” – Tony LaMantia, President & CEO, Waterloo EDC

We mentioned this earlier, but collision between industries is key to innovation. Put advanced manufacturing know-how together with tech expertise and you get cutting-edge new products in robotics and automation – it’s a big part of the reason we have Canada’s biggest robotics and automation cluster.

Combine agriculture and tech and you get companies working on new services that connect farms directly to dinner tables. Add an ecosystem full of support organizations that exist to make these collisions happen and you have a recipe for repeatable innovation.

“There is a denseness to it and a collaborative aspect, which creates this dynamic environment that has incubators, venture capital availability and a high number of very high quality startups that are often incubated in California through organizations such as Y Combinator and then turned around to come back and build their teams and companies here.” – Steve Woods, Senior Director of Engineering & Engineering Lead – Google Canada

Click here to read Tony LaMantia’s full interview.

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