Region must attract new business

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Councillor calls on Technology Triangle to focus on business retention — Feb. 18

The statement by Waterloo regional Coun. Sean Strickland that business retention should be the No. 1 priority in Waterloo Region represents an important part of the equation for economic success.

However, attracting business is also paramount to prosperity and growth.

While each municipality has its own economic development department mandated with retaining business, the mandate of Canada’s Technology Triangle is to attract foreign direct investment: investment from outside the region. Our responsibility is to engage and invite investors to consider our region. Once we have attracted that interest, our region must respond with readily available resources such as talented employees and land.

Strickland’s suggestion that we focus on business retention has merit; it’s vital to keep businesses happily ensconced in our community. Their decisions to leave, though, are often sadly out of our hands.

The departure of Maple Leaf Foods (formerly Schneider’s), for example, was predetermined, non-negotiable and entirely driven by economic factors well beyond local control. The same could be said of the downsizing of BlackBerry, affected by domestic and global issues over which Waterloo Region is and will always be powerless. It is short-sighted to sit on our laurels. When any one organization leaves, another from outside the Region should already be aware of us and actively considering locating here.

For that reason and others, places east and west of us are wisely ramping up their competitive strategies. For example, the Greater Toronto Metropolitan Area has an organization similar to Canada’s Technology Triangle and it is seeking up to $7.6 million to focus on foreign direct investment. The foresight and preparedness of the Greater Toronto Metropolitan Area and others could well leave Waterloo Region behind.

Foreign investment assists with foreign companies bringing us both foreign innovation and talent. That, too, provides huge benefits to our valued existing businesses. Think of Google. Think of Toyota, and Rimowa.

I believe that less than one seventh of the overall economic development budget is not going to allow us to compete going forward. A longer range view of balancing both attraction and retention initiatives are keys to Waterloo Region’s ongoing economic health.

Helen Jowett

Chair, Canada’s Technology Triangle