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8 Ways Waterloo’s Resilience is Paying Off Post Pandemic

The population grew, new unicorns emerged and businesses expanded in our community. Learn how Waterloo stayed resilient throughout the pandemic and how it paid off.

We witnessed the world change in a myriad of unexpected ways over the past three years. No industry – and no individual – was unaffected by the pandemic.

Although everyone’s experience was unique, these transformations created a collective and seismic shift in the economy. In many respects, the business world slowed down as we grappled with our new reality and fresh challenges.

But in Waterloo, we never took our foot off the gas. In the face of adversity, we remained steadfast, supportive and innovative. Our resilience saw us through population growth, business expansions and innovations in infrastructure.

We worked together to support the local business ecosystem, provide pandemic and healthcare aid, while combating the economic challenges facing our community and the world.

And it paid off.

Over the past three years, our population grew, our ecosystem gained new unicorns and business giants, our academic institutions earned new awards, our industry support organizations welcomed new leaders and more.

Here’s a list of the eight big ways Waterloo persevered over the last three years.

1. Our population continued to grow

It’s no secret that Waterloo’s population is booming.

You only need to take a stroll through the community to notice the construction cranes etched into the Waterloo skyline, residential and office buildings sprouting up around town and new transit infrastructure connecting the three cities that make up Waterloo Region, like the ION Light Rail Transit (LRT) system.

But for anyone who can’t spare a visit to Waterloo, the numbers tell the same story.

For the past three years, Waterloo has ranked in the top five on Statistics Canada’s population estimates growth list. This means that Waterloo has been one of the fastest growing communities in Canada for the past three years.

In 2020, Waterloo Region had a population of 623,930. By the end of 2022, that number grew to 647,540. The region’s population is expected to be just shy of a million (923,000) by 2051, which represents 47.9% growth over three decades.

Our steady growth showcases the strength of our ecosystem, even amid a global pandemic. Our community and prospective investors have a lot to be excited about in the years to come.

2. New infrastructure accommodated growing population

With a growing population comes the responsibility to ensure everyone has access to housing, transportation, congregation spaces and more.

The infrastructure changes implemented in Waterloo over the past three years exemplify how we’re working together to create a connected community where people can work, live and play – in comfort and convenience. For example, new residential buildings, office spaces and green areas are being constructed along our light rail transit route.

This surge in construction first began in 2020, after it was reported that 18 projects worth $1B would rise in the core – including six 20+ storey residential and office towers with 386,000 square feet of new space.

We also unveiled plans for a new central transit hub that will optimize our commuting system. And our airport announced a $44M expansion which will see the airport doubled in size to just over 60,000 from 30,000 square feet in a bid to accommodate more passenger traffic.

3. CBRE Ranked Waterloo #1 in North America

For the past two consecutive years, Waterloo was named the #1 small tech talent market in North America by CBRE.

We came out on top due to our fast-growing graduate and millennial populations, high degree of tech worker concentration and significant cost advantages. This feat speaks to our community’s ability to continue to grow and thrive despite extenuating circumstances.

Waterloo was also featured on these high-profile rankings and reports over the past three years:

4. Two innovation hubs broke ground

Speaking of infrastructure changes, two new innovation hubs have recently broke ground in the region, signaling a continued investment in the local startup and entrepreneurial communities.

Earlier this year, the University of Waterloo and Velocity announced the official expansion of a new Innovation Arena geared toward health innovation.

Supported by federal, provincial and municipal funding, the new site will fast-track entrepreneurs and accelerate commercialization in our health and medtech ecosystem, which is more important than ever given the events of the past three years.

Additionally, the SDG Idea Factory opened its doors this year to entrepreneurs, community leaders and like-minded individuals looking to innovate and collaborate to build a stronger, more sustainable city.

5. Three new tech unicorns emerged

Evidently, innovation is exploding in Waterloo. In addition to these two new hubs, three new tech unicorns emerged in our ecosystem since 2020.

ApplyBoard, Arctic Wolf and eSentire hit this incredible tech milestone during the turbulent pandemic years, which is indicative of our community’s resilience and adaptability.

Several other tech companies garnered media attention for their funding raises and acquisitions too:

In 2021, Faire announced a new $260M funding round and a $7B valuation while Auvik Networks landed a $250M investment.

More recently, Miovision raised $260M to help create safer, greener cities worldwide. And OpenText became one of the largest software and cloud businesses in the world with their purchase of British software-maker Micro Focus for $5.8B in 2022.

In fact, in 2022, it was reported that CDN$2.8B was invested in Waterloo Region companies alone, a figure that exceeded the previous 10 years combined.

6. Tech and manufacturing giants joined the ecosystem

Those incredible investment levels, paired with our resilience and innovation, attracted major tech and manufacturing companies to our community. Business giants like EPAM Systems, MasterClass and Beckhoff Automation all expanded their operations in our region during the pandemic.

EPAM Systems and MasterClass were drawn to Waterloo for the tech ecosystem, the breadth of up-and-coming engineering, math and computer science talent from the University of Waterloo and the existing tech talent pool.

Beckhoff decided to move here for our growing reputation for high-tech manufacturing, the talent coming out of UWaterloo and our prime positioning along Canada’s largest superhighway.

Additionally, companies like Enlighted (a Siemens Company), Constant Contact and Bosch either expanded or moved their operations to Waterloo, another indicator of the strength and perseverance of our ecosystem.

Over the past three years, our community’s resilience has fostered an environment where companies both big and small can grow, thrive and succeed, even when challenges arise.         

7. Support organizations welcomed new leadership

And since challenges always arise, the best ecosystems are those that embrace change which is exactly what Waterloo did, when we welcomed new leaders at Communitech, the Accelerator Centre, the University of Waterloo and on the National Quantum Strategy Advisory Council.

Chris Albinson became the new CEO of Communitech in 2021 and ushered in a new era of Tech for Good. Albinson is building on Communitech’s existing legacy of creating globally minded, competitive companies, while focusing on how Canadian tech founders can “Own the Podium.”

Right around the same time, Jay Krishnan stepped into the CEO role at the Accelerator Centre with the goal of operating with a more global mindset, including more programming to help increase founders’ global reach and build stronger ties to the international startup community.

Dr. Vivek Goel became the President of the University of Waterloo in the same year. A leader in health and medicine, he joined UWaterloo ready to utilize its research and innovation capabilities to tackle some of the world’s biggest issues, like public health challenges, systemic racism, the growing climate crisis, economic recovery and more.

Lastly, Dr. Raymond LaFlamme was appointed as the Co-Chair of the National Quantum Strategy (NQS) Advisory Council. LaFlamme is the founding director of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and is a renowned expert in quantum information.

At the NQS, LaFlamme works to mobilize quantum research for commercial applications, foster partnerships and train a next-generation workforce to maintain Canada’s leadership in quantum science, technology and innovation.

These four leaders have contributed a great deal to our innovation ecosystem over the past two years and further Waterloo’s reputation as a magnet for big thinkers and ideas.

8. Academic institutions scored new accolades, partnerships

Our innovation ecosystem would be incomplete without our local academic institutions, all of which passed through the pandemic with flying colours.

The University of Waterloo (UWaterloo)

The University of Waterloo added several accolades to its ever-growing list of accomplishments over the past three years.

Maclean’s tapped UWaterloo as Canada’s Most Innovative University in 2021 and 2022, which means UWaterloo has won this award 29 times in the last three decades.

UWaterloo was listed among the world’s top-25 computer science programs for the past three years by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) global university rankings.

Most recently, UWaterloo was ranked #22 in computer science. In the same report, the school was also recognized as one of the world’s top science, technology, mathematics and engineering universities.

The university also announced a five-year, multi-million dollar research based partnership with BlackBerry, a $51M collaboration with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to strengthen Canada’s quantum research capacity and a partnership with Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) to develop small molecule therapeutics against coronaviruses.

Wilfrid Laurier University

Wilfrid Laurier University announced that its Lazaridis ScaleUp program companies surpassed $1B in new capital raised in 2021.

The program seeks to help high-potential Canadian companies transition from founder-led organizations to scalable businesses that can compete in global markets.

Conestoga College

Conestoga College announced a new Creative Industries campus in collaboration with the Region of Waterloo to address the shortage of creative talent across Canada.

A massive new skilled trades campus was also announced by Conestoga. The 250,000 sq. ft. facility will make a significant contribution to Waterloo’s manufacturing industry and bolster Conestoga’s existing skilled trades programs.

The college was also dubbed one of the top research colleges in Canada in 2023.

Celebrating 3 years of resilience and growth

Although the past three years have been unprecedented, Waterloo’s business ecosystem rose to the challenge and took the opportunity to grow, learn and adapt.

While the effects of the pandemic are still with us in many ways, our community stepped up again and we’re well positioned to weather whatever comes next.

What does the future hold?

You could be part of Waterloo’s next success story. Get in touch with our team to learn more.