Earlier this month, multinational mass media and information firm Thomson Reuters, announced a huge expansion of its Canadian operations with the creation of a new technology center in downtown Toronto, Ontario.
Thomson Reuters set up a data and innovation lab in Ontario last year, called Thomson Reuters Labs – Waterloo Region, where the firm already has 1,200 employees working on prototypes for data science solutions. The Toronto Technology Center looks to expand on that significantly, adding 400 high-quality technology jobs in Canada over the next two years, with plans to add approximately 1,500 more jobs over time.
Other companies such as General Motors, TD Bank, Canon, Deloitte, and a few other big Canadian brands, such as Canadian Tire, have all established something similar in recent years, so what is it about the Corridor that is driving this influx of corporate technology centers?
The development of such a large tech center in Canada represents somewhat of a homecoming for Thomson Reuters, which started life in Ontario in 1934. “Canada is not only our home, it is home to an emerging ecosystem of world-class technology talent,” said Jim Smith, President and CEO of Thomson Reuters, in a press release.
Access to this talent was a key deciding factor for the company when it chose to establish the lab in the Toronto-Waterloo Region Corridor (the Corridor). Here, the firm could draw from the economic benefits and population base of Toronto, as well as the tech savviness of local resources in Toronto and nearby Waterloo.
Even though there are 16 different universities between Toronto and Waterloo, the center will primarily be drawing from are the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto. According to Chris Plunkett, former Canadian diplomat and Director of External Relations at Communitech, the University of Waterloo is considered one of the best engineering schools in the world, particularly for computer science and math.
One of the things that will allow Thomson Reuters to expand so quickly is the Co-op program at the University of Waterloo, which started life in the 1950s and was the largest in the world for many years. The program allows students to combine four-month school terms with four-month paid work terms in jobs relating to their chosen subjects. It’s this program that will allow Thomson Reuters to attract students at an early age, not just undercut students with PhDs in data science.
Thomson Reuters is in possession of masses of data, so the company has been looking to partner with startups and other innovators to determine how best to use it. This includes new ways to commercialize it and new innovations like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT).
“One of the big reasons that Communitech runs the corporate innovation hub is to find large customers for startup companies,” said Plunkett. “Thomson Reuters has been great in that regard, targeting a lot of companies in the legal, finance, accounting, fintech, and data spaces. This opportunity to collaborate with startups is a big part of why they are here. Even if they don’t acquire them for talent, they can work together in partnership and co-develop projects or buy from them.”
Communitech is a public-private partnership whose role is to help tech companies of all sizes grow and succeed in the Corridor. Its corporate innovation program is a way to partner with companies that want to develop new products more quickly or want to bring a more innovative culture to the organization.
“If a company has a research mandate, we find that it has a positive effect on the tech ecosystem and talent development,” said Plunkett. “The talent issue for us has long been that bigger tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston have been taking talent away from this area. In many ways, we’ve found that companies like Thomson Reuters present with real mandates in place helps people build their careers in this area. It’s vital to have a mix of early-stage startups, hybrid companies, and multinationals to keep talent around.”
In terms of cost, the Corridor tends to be less expensive than some equally tech-centric regions, but not all of them. One of the main draws of Corridor talent is that retention rates are higher, according to Plunkett. “A lot of companies tell us that they like the ability to hire people who stay longer than they might do in Silicon Valley, in particular,” he said. “Instead of jumping to the next thing after a matter of months, employees stick around for longer, allowing companies to build better teams more easily.”
While the company was not available for comments, one thing is for sure: Thomson Reuters has been on a mission to find the best talent and has been incredibly impressed with what they have been able to do in their relatively small center in Waterloo, and it’s not the only firm that believes in the Corridor.
Just last week, Google Canada’s Senior Engineering Director, Steve Woods, showed his support for the Corridor, stating that Toronto is a better environment for startups than Silicon Valley. “The density of startups and talent in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor means you don’t need to go to Silicon Valley. In fact, maybe you shouldn’t,” he said. With this level of endorsement, Toronto is definitely worth keeping on the radar for near-future innovations and technological breakthroughs.
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