Local business expansion is a big part of Waterloo EDC’s mandate. In fact, in 2021, more than half of the investment value we helped bring to the community was from growth in companies that are already operating here. That’s $218 million in new investment.
How do we help local companies expand? What can we do for you? What supports aren’t local companies using?
We asked Erin D’Alessandro, Waterloo EDC’s Director of Business Development & Client Services, for her first-person perspective on local business expansion in Waterloo and the free services Waterloo EDC provides to companies looking for help.
Q: Waterloo EDC has a strong FDI-focus, so why do we also help local companies grow?
D’ALESSANDRO: You’re never going to be able to attract an international company if you don’t have a strong local base.
Waterloo is Waterloo because of who we have here and because of the way our companies have continuously reinvented themselves. International companies are interested in joining communities where they’ll find support and opportunities for collaboration, in addition to the usual priorities: talent or cost savings. That requires a strong local business community.
Q: A lot of the investments we support are local expansions, right?
D’ALESSANDRO: They are. Our team spends 50% of its time on local companies. That includes active outreach to local companies, meetings with local companies that have questions about expansion and working with those companies to make those expansions happen. We also work very closely with our municipal partners – including economic development officers at the cities and townships – to ensure that our client companies are getting a holistic service experience.
There’s no wrong door in Waterloo Region if your company wants to expand.
Q: How do we help local companies that are looking to expand? What sort of support do we provide?
D’ALESSANDRO: We offer a variety of different services that we cater to the company’s needs. Not every company needs all of our services. There is no upsell – we measure ourselves on company success.
In many cases, companies just want help raising their profile. How can we, as an economic development agency, help get that company’s name out there? Well, we have blogs, we have cluster maps, we partner with them on media opportunities and we invite them to participate as thought leaders at events or on webinars.
Companies also come to us when they’re looking for new space. That might mean finding land, commercial space or partnerships. We often work as a broker between the company and real estate agents to do the work of searching for a space that fits their unique needs. Then we’ll make the introductions to get the deal done.
Q: We also help with immigration, right?
D’ALESSANDRO: We are very active in immigration. We’re a dedicated referral partner for government programs that help companies recruit internationally for specialized skillsets that are hard to find here. We encourage companies to take advantage of these programs because they’re low cost, it’s less complicated than you might think and it’s a great way to add tough-to-find talent to your team.
Q: We also help with government programs, too. I know I’ve heard you talk about funding, tax credits and advocacy.
D’ALESSANDRO: Yes, funding is a big one. We have a lot of companies looking to leverage government funding, whether that’s grant programs, loan programs or tax credits. We help them navigate all aspects of government funding, including figuring out which programs could work for them and putting together the application.
Last but not least, we help companies with red tape challenges. If there’s a policy that’s making it challenging for your business to operate or grow, we can help advocate for change, where appropriate. In these cases we work very closely with our municipal partners who, like Waterloo EDC, are committed to helping local companies thrive.
Q: Do you think there’s a service, program, etc. that local companies AREN’T taking advantage enough?
D’ALESSANDRO: When you hear the word immigration you think “long process, complex government forms and scary background checks” and it often deters companies from exploring immigration as an option. But, it’s easier than you might think.
We find that local companies are far less likely to tap into these programs than foreign-owned companies or new arrivals and we’d like that to change. Talent is a challenge everywhere and immigration is a tool to address it. We think local companies could leverage it more aggressively to help address talent or experience shortages.
The recent pandemic and other global issues – like the war in Ukraine – have also added challenges, but the programs are in place and should definitely be a part of every company’s talent strategy.
Q: Why do you do this? Why do you work at Waterloo EDC?
D’ALESSANDRO: It’s great to work at a place where you can see an immediate impact. It’s rewarding to see how the work you are doing is making the community a better place. At Waterloo EDC, you can see companies growing. You can see investment happening in real-time. You can see increased collaboration that may not have been happening before.
To be able to go into a job every day knowing that you’re able to make a difference, and you’re helping companies, is really rewarding. There’s always a new challenge, which means there’s always a new opportunity. Every business is different. That means every day is different.