A year after it opened a successful innovation lab at the Communitech Hub, global information giant Thomson Reuters is doubling down on the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor with a new technology hub in Canada’s largest city.
This morning’s announcement – attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto Mayor John Tory and other political and business dignitaries – included news that Thomson Reuters’ CEO and Chief Financial Officer will both be moving to Toronto from New York, where the company is headquartered.
The new tech centre, which will create 400 highly skilled jobs over the next two years and 1,500 longer-term, signals a sort of homecoming for Thomson Reuters, a multinational whose roots lie in Canada’s Thomson family. It also suggests confidence in Canada’s innovation economy in general, and the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor in particular, guests at the announcement were told.
“Just one year ago I was in Waterloo cutting a ribbon for our brand-new innovation lab at Communitech, a technology lab that would concentrate on partnerships with academics, students and startups to put new, innovative technologies into practice,” Thomson Reuters CEO Jim Smith told the audience.
“A year ago, I said that Waterloo would be an innovation engine inside our company, and so it has proven to be,” Smith continued. “But if the lab in Waterloo is the engine, then the technology centre in Toronto will be the gearbox, cranking up the power of our ideas to bring energy to our customers on a larger and wider scale.”
Aside from having access to top-quality tech talent produced in the corridor, Smith said it just made sense for Thomson Reuters – whose customers are in 140 countries – to beef up its presence “in the world’s most diverse and multicultural city.”
Prime Minister Trudeau, in calling today “a pretty big day not only for Toronto, but for all Canadians,” said his government is “thrilled” about the new technology centre.
“This centre will allow Thomson Reuters to access the very best and brightest minds stationed in the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor, all the while developing innovative business technologies here in Canada, and creating up to 1,500 good jobs in Toronto,” the Prime Minister said.
The announcement followed months of discussions that began early this year, when Trudeau, along with his Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, met Smith at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Prime Minister and Smith followed up in March in New York, and the government, in collaboration with their Ontario counterparts, worked as a kind of “concierge” to smooth the path to today’s news.
There were no economic incentives involved, but government officials helped with other details, including the relocation of Smith and his CFO, Stephane Bello.
Trudeau suggested his government, which has heard loud and clear from Canada’s tech sector that streamlined immigration is critical to talent attraction, will continue to help in similar situations.
“We’re delighted, though not surprised, that an increasing number of national and international businesses are choosing to invest in Canada and in Canadian talent,” Trudeau said. “Now, with Thomson Reuters, this is actually a bit of a homecoming,” he continued, alluding to the media empire that had humble beginnings in the 1930s, but would eventually make the Thomson family Canada’s wealthiest.
Premier Wynne pointed out how teams of people within all levels of government “have worked together with Thomson Reuters to make this happen,” and that Ontario’s work to make the corridor attractive to investment – by supporting education, startup incubation and other aspects – is paying off.
“Ontario is a place of invention and discovery,” the Premier said. “Over the course of our 149-year history as a province, this helped every generation create more opportunities for those who followed. The Ontario we’re building in 2016 follows that path, and takes it squarely into the 21st-century global economy.”
Mayor Tory, referring to the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, said “I don’t think we have any idea how important it is in global terms, and how well-respected this corridor is.” He is sometimes asked why he has been touting the entire region, instead of just Toronto, but said “the fact is, we are Canada’s champion, where we can go out to companies like [Thomson Reuters] – which is a Canadian, global multinational; one of the very few we have – and say, ‘You can come here.’”
Despite the increasing vibrancy of the region’s tech community, moving around efficiently within it is an increasing challenge, a fact touched on throughout this morning’s event. Ontario has pledged two-way, all-day GO train service between Toronto and Waterloo Region by 2024, and Trudeau was asked today what his government can do to help.
He answered by recounting a visit he made to the Communitech Hub in September of 2014, a year before he became Prime Minister, during which he met with several Waterloo Region tech entrepreneurs.
“I asked, ‘What can we do for all you exciting high-tech companies – there were people like Google and Microsoft around the table, and [BlackBerry]; there were also a whole bunch of young startups,” he said. “I was expecting some VC stuff, tax breaks, immigration, and we got some of those things, but the number-one ask was bricks-and-mortar: ‘Can you improve the connection, the transportation infrastructure, between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo?’”
Trudeau, whose government has announced a $120-billion infrastructure fund to be spent over 10 years, said working with provincial and municipal governments to identify projects “is really important,” but “it’s not up to the federal government to decide how best to connect two communities within a province. It is very much up to those communities and the province to tell us what that best solution is.”
Photo: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question from Stephen Adler, President and Editor-in-Chief of Reuters, at today's announcement in Toronto.