Tech giants point to new talent as primary reason for Toronto investment

By Tina Yazdani

With some of the best post-secondary institutions in the world, Toronto is attracting, retaining and developing more talent than any other city in North America right now.

That’s according to industry leaders, who point to talent as one of the primary reasons two major tech players announced plans to expand in Toronto this week.

“When these companies are coming in, they’re not bringing thousands of people with them, they want to access what’s here,” said Toby Lennox, Toronto Global CEO.

“We talk to companies all the time from around the world and it’s three things – talent, talent, talent. It’s really amazing,” he said.

Microsoft is investing in a huge new office downtown and Uber is revving up its Canadian operations with a new engineering hub in Toronto, as well as the expansion of their self-driving vehicle centre in the city.

“We’re going to offer opportunities for current Uber engineers to re-locate from various company sites to Toronto, and we expect a lot of them to take us up on that,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. “This is a pretty nice place to live, the cost of living is pretty attractive compared to San Francisco.”

While rent is skyrocketing across the city – with a downtown condo ringing in at a record average $2,300 a month – tech leaders say this market is actually reasonable for young adults in the industry, used to paying over $1,000 more in the Bay Area.

“If you’re, for instance, trying to work in Silicon Valley, you can’t afford to buy a house on a regular technology salary,” said Axle Davids, Vice President of Brand for Swift Medical. “Whereas in a place in Toronto you can. So there’s a lot of appeal for people to be here.”

But Toronto still faces challenges when it comes to being taken seriously by the tech world at large.

“Let’s not overestimate our profile. In the United States we’re still a bit of an odd outlier,” said Lennox.

It helps that Toronto is becoming well-known for some interesting innovations – a prime example: artificial intelligence.

“Some of the best AI experts are here in Canada,” said Jaxson Khan of Nudge AI.

“This is unbelievable that we have this huge mass of experts here. And the fact is, dozens of research scientists have also come up from the U.S. in the past year simply because of all the networks and hubs that we’re creating here.”

Also putting Toronto on the map: It’s the only Canadian city to make the cut on Amazon’s shortlist for its second headquarters.

Toronto Global, the company that put together the bid on Toronto’s behalf, tell us they haven’t heard anything yet, but they are hopeful.

“The profile that we get through Amazon means that we’ve already won this bid,” said Lennox.

“It’s been a great boost for us. We’ll find out what’s going on, but let’s just keep the pressure on bringing those other companies to develop the homegrown talent we need to.”

The new investments are also expected to create hundreds of jobs in the city. Microsoft reportedly expects to create 500 jobs by 2022, as well as 500 co-op and internship positions.

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