Toronto’s mayor heads to Silicon Valley to woo home talent, along with some U.S. venture capital
Toronto Mayor John Tory can’t pinpoint exactly how much money or the number of jobs he’s hoping to net when he meets with some of the largest technology firms in Silicon Valley next week. His mission is to promote Toronto-Kitchener/Waterloo as a competitive innovation corridor, but he’s also aware he’ll need to deliver a similar sales pitch back home.
Meanwhile, Tory said he’s hoping this sojourn will help reverse the flow of Canadian talent to Silicon Valley, wooed by big compensation and West Coast glamour. Tory said he will also try to impress venture capitalists enough for them to send their capital across the border.
Tory also said, one of his top preoccupations is the quantity of University of Waterloo graduates, in particular, who flee the nest. He would like U.S. companies to expand their presence here, rather than watch these graduates get Green Cards.
“Right now the number of Canadians coming this way is relatively small, smaller than going the other way,” Tory said in an interview at his City Hall office.
The mayor of Canada’s largest city firmly believes expats can be lured home by pumping up the quality of life in Ontario and the cost advantage, even if he’s vague on how the proverbial brochure would be worded. However, he acknowledged that the disparity in salaries between the Valley and Toronto-KW is a sticking point.
During his four-day trip to California starting Sunday, Tory will cover substantial territory in the Bay area, meeting with some of the world’s largest technology companies including Alphabet, Facebook, Twitter and Cisco. He’ll also get face time with VC investors and Canadian expat entrepreneurs.
“I want to make the pitch to them: there is no reason negatively — and there are plenty of positive reasons — why you couldn’t locate more aspects of your operations in the (Toronto-KW) corridor with a view to accessing that pool of talent,” he said.
And Tory said he is confident that attracting a larger commitment from this calibre of firms won’t stifle the growth of startups. And, his push to repatriate talent is in part to capitalize on experience in the Valley with scaling companies. “The efforts that we’re making are designed to reduce the number of firms that feel they have to sell because they have no alternative,” he said.
When Cisco executives meet with Tory, they plan to showcase the company’s role in nurturing the Valley’s economy into what it is today.
“You need some of the larger players in there. They need to be the ones to start to build this tech hotbed,” said Dan Madon, vice-president, public sector, Cisco Canada. “As you do that, it’s going to start to grow.”
Cisco, with a staff of 2,500 people in Canada, has made a pledge to raise its headcount by 1,400 people over six years. Madon said Cisco has needed to go beyond Silicon Valley to expand its research and development capacity. If that trend is consistent at other companies, it could make Tory’s job easier.
“There’s a talent pool in Canada that’s been untapped and we’re jumping in with both feet,” he said.