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Building Globally Competitive Canadian Cities

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helps to officially open the Google offices in Waterloo Region. (Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO)

Through concerted collaboration executed in a spirit of co-opetition, over the last three years 11 Canadian cities have executed seven joint Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) missions with the Federal government to 12 countries. These missions have resulted in 1,706 B2B meetings, 855 leads and 59 company visits. At an event last month hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and attended by representatives of Chambers of Commerce and municipal economic development leaders from Canada's largest cities, attendees learned more about how to improve these numbers and accelerate leads to investment success.

Key points made during the day, which saw the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase bring their Global Cities Initiative (GCI) to Canada for the first time, included:

  • Economic development models are changing, countries and cities that don't recognize these "new" models, will be left behind;
  • Globalization is a reality, thinking global is a necessity for a sustainable economy;
  • Companies investing consider themselves as clients of cities;
  • Investors look to the ecosystems in city-regions not to politically defined municipal boundaries;
  • Green field investments are becoming rare. Expansion of existing investments, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) plus equity investment in existing domestic companies are now the FDI instruments of choice, and
  • Business links between global cities are growing.

The meeting, was very encouraging as it reinforced the reasons why seven cities came together in 2007 to plant the seeds for what is today the 11-member Consider Canada City Alliance. The Alliance was founded on collaboration, the rising importance of cities, consistent messaging amongst members and with the Federal government, and building an effective model for FDI pursuit for the 21st century.
What are our member cities doing right when compared against the Brooking's model:

  • Unlike the United States, where equivalent organizations often represent cities with boundaries defined decades if not centuries ago and exclude suburb and new growth areas, they largely represent broader city regions: Halifax, Ottawa and Calgary by political action to amalgamate municipal jurisdictions and Montreal, Waterloo Region and soon Toronto by hard work and cooperation.
  • Each city defines its sectors of strength and geographic targets guided by their demonstrable world competitive sectors and alignment with the federal government's Global Action Plan
  • Many members have active business expansion campaigns and successes. For example the ABB expansions in Quebec City ($20 million) and Montreal ($70 million), Ubisoft's continuing growth in Montreal ($373 million) (as well as Toronto, Halifax and Quebec City), Microsoft's new Excellence Centre in Vancouver ($90 million), Google's new facility in Waterloo (housing 350 employees), and GE Aviation's $26 million upgrade to its test facilities in Winnipeg
  • Vancouver and Ottawa are building links to Chinese cities and encouraging Chinese investment in their local companies. In 2012 the Beijing based Z-park opened an incubation facility in Ottawa ($10 million). Last month Graphite Software received an $8 million investment from a Beijing VC firm. Vancouver opened the China-Canada Clean Technology Centre ($4.5 million) in partnership with the Hanhai Zhiye Group. The virtual reality content developer Archiact received a $4.2 million equity investment from China-based 37 Interactive Entertainment.

Jan De Silva CEO of the Toronto Board and Adam Legge CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce helped frame the importance of the gathering in a Toronto Globe and Mail article:

  • "In the 21st century, it's cities and city-regions that will be the primary drivers of global and Canadian economies."
  • "Unfortunately, we (Canada) have been slower to recognize the importance of our larger cities to take the necessary steps to compete on the world stage."
  • "In many respects, it is Canada's time ... we just need the initiative to get there."

Collaboration between initiatives like that of the Chambers and the CCCA, and guidance from organizations like the Brookings Institution, will ensure that Canada's large cities provide the foundation for a competitive, productive and prosperous 21st century Canadian economy.

Michael Darch is the founding President of the Consider Canada City Alliance

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