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Q&A: Waterloo EDC’s Maria Suarez on helping manufacturers grow

Maria Suarez, Waterloo EDC's Market Development Manager for Advanced Manufacturing, on how our organization helps manufacturers expand and thrive.

Waterloo has an excellent international reputation for tech. It’s well-earned.

However, it’s manufacturing that originally put us on the map and manufacturing still has the largest workforce in Waterloo. We’re leaders in robotics, automation and automotive – home to Canada’s largest automotive manufacturer, in fact – and even our tech community has joined in with innovative approaches to applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to problems in manufacturing.

For an international company looking to expand, this makes Waterloo a unique opportunity – a manufacturing powerhouse that happens to have one of the top tech talent markets in North America. Joining us here isn’t as hard as you think – Waterloo EDC is happy to help.

How can we help? We asked our own Maria Suarez, who specializes in helping manufacturers from all over the world expand in Waterloo Region, about Waterloo EDC’s efforts to help manufacturing companies grow.

Q: How do we help companies that are looking to expand to Canada? What sort of services do we provide? Is every company looking for the same sort of help?


SUAREZ: We provide free assistance to international companies that are interested in expanding to Waterloo. We help them evaluate their growth potential here and we can help assist them with site selection. We’ve also helped develop cost analyses and comparisons to demonstrate Waterloo’s advantages over other locations.

Many of our clients have done their due diligence, but they may need some help making comparisons between communities. We can help compare costs – labour force, space, utilities, raw materials – and the quality or availability of talent. We also have ways to compare ecosystems.

We help with introductions to collaborative partners – like research institutes, universities and other companies – or with service providers like lawyers, accountants and recruitment professionals.

Immigration is a key advantage for Canada. There is a global talent shortage, but you can bring talent from anywhere in the world to Canada with relative ease.

Q: We have a lot of manufacturers here in Waterloo – somewhere north of 1800 companies – and we’ve helped many of them expand their local operations. How do we help companies that have already invested here?

SUAREZ: The more we meet with local companies the more we can help.

We often make connections between companies – in manufacturing, we’ve found examples of companies that are sourcing components from companies in the US or China that are made here. So, the more we can build connections within the community, the stronger these companies will be.

It’s about growing the local network and connecting companies to the universities and college – they all know that the universities and college are there, but they don’t always know about the co-operative education programs or research collaborations that can help companies directly. We want to help local companies identify untapped manufacturing capacity.

All of our services – assistance with site selection, connections with recruitment professionals – are available to local companies, too.

Q: Access to funding is huge for manufacturers, right?

SUAREZ: Yes, both provincial and federal. We’re very happy to help local companies identify loan, grant and tax credit programs that can help them fund new research, develop new production lines and more.

Many of our manufacturers are doing R&D, and they take advantage of funding or tax credits like SR&ED, but they don’t know about programs like the Advanced Manufacturing Consortium, which helps companies develop products. R&D isn’t just about getting the funding – it’s about tapping into the expertise needed to conduct R&D.

We can help local operations add value, move up the value chain and develop products that you just can’t develop anywhere else. Viessmann is a great example – they decided to build their R&D team in Waterloo because we have the local resources to help this function grow. They’re now developing products for the North American market that differ from the core offerings in Germany.

Q: What’s the first thing a manufacturer should do if they’d like to consider expansion to Waterloo? What’s next?

SUAREZ: Contact us. We need to understand your project and then we can figure out exactly how we can help you.

Companies have different starting points – sometimes they have a legal entity here already, but other times it’s literally just starting from scratch. It doesn’t matter which point your company is at – the best course of action is starting a conversation.

Q: If you were pitching Waterloo – I know you do this a lot – what would you say to manufacturers?

SUAREZ: This is a community of builders. We’ve built products for 150 years.

But, at this moment, when automation and artificial intelligence is becoming so important for manufacturing, this is the place for your company. We have the workforce to help you start here and the technical expertise to help your company develop new products and add value. You won’t find this combination in many other places in North America.

Q: You’ve been helping manufacturers expand in Waterloo for more than five years now. What drew you to Waterloo EDC?

SUAREZ: I came to Waterloo for a tour of the ecosystem with a group of diplomats. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to join the tour – my boss asked me to attend in his place.

I’d lived in Toronto for seven years and I didn’t know anything about Waterloo. It was mind-blowing to see how much was happening here. The innovation. The growth. Google’s engineering headquarters.

At the end of the tour, Tony [LaMantia] delivered a keynote address and mentioned his new organization, which turned out to be Waterloo EDC. All I could think was “I want to work there – I want to work with him.” Now I do.

Want to learn more about expanding your manufacturing company to Waterloo?