When I recently met Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs and former deputy mayor of New York City, we talked about some things we have in common.
We have both worked in the public and private sectors, advocated for tolls as a way to decrease congestion and raise revenue (only to have the brakes hit at the state and provincial level) and we both believe that technology can be a force of good for cities.
For Mr. Doctoroff, that belief is focused on the ability of Sidewalk Labs – a sister company to Google – to develop products by bringing together urban thinking and technological know-how.
For me, technology’s value to Toronto and the surrounding region is about the solutions it can help deliver, and also about the growing sector it represents.
This past week was undeniably a big one for the technology and innovation sector in and around Toronto.
The announcement that Sidewalk Labs had won the Waterfront Toronto request-for-proposal (RFP) competition for an innovation and funding partner for our Quayside development brought the Prime Minister to Toronto and earned headlines around the world.
And on Thursday, we released the Toronto region bid for Amazon HQ2, put together by our new foreign direct investment agency, Toronto Global, and including commitments made by the provincial government to invest in dramatically increasing the number of Ontario STEM grads and graduate students in artificial intelligence.
So what do these announcements mean for the city and region? What is the benefit locally?
First of all, I want Toronto to be a city that attracts smart people trying to do big things. Our tech sector is built around those who are bringing forward new solutions to everything from health care to finance, and many of the ideas and technologies being developed can help us improve service to city residents as well.
As Mr. Doctoroff said this week, he sees Toronto as “the global centre of urban innovation.”
With Sidewalk Labs entering the landscape, we can accelerate a much-needed conversation about how to deal with the challenges of our city’s rapid growth, from affordable housing to mobility.
And, as our city grows, our region’s tech sector is growing, too. Time and again, we have heard from company founders that our region needs to attract more talent to help support their growth.
To do so, more people need to know what’s happening here: the size of our tech sector, the opportunities it has to offer, and the pace of our growth.
While Jeff Bezos has his motivations for a competition-style search for his new headquarters, Toronto Global and my fellow regional mayors approached the open RFP call for Amazon HQ2 as an opportunity to tell our story on a world stage.
We are not offering to change our name to Amazon or turn our skylines orange, we are simply declaring that the Toronto region is already an unparalleled tech sector with a hugely talented population and advantages that should not be ignored, including our quality of life and underlying Canadian values that are globally admired.
Throughout the Toronto region, the growth of our tech ecosystem is being driven by an outstanding group of companies that are transforming industries, including Axonify, Vidyard, D2L and Thalmic in Kitchener-Waterloo; SOTI and PointClickCare in Mississauga; Hubba, Ecobee, FreshBooks and Wattpad in Toronto, and many more.
There are more than 30 growth-stage technology companies in the Toronto region that have at least 100 employees and many are well beyond 500.
These companies are also well-financed to continue to grow – 60 per cent have raised more than $50-million in venture funding, 20 per cent have raised more than $100-million.
To support these companies, our regional mayors have committed to working together. We know that we are not in competition with each other when it comes to talent, but with other metropolitan areas across North America and around the world.
Over the past week, I have met with two San Francisco-based CEOs who said further growth in California has been compromised by the inflated cost of the state’s housing market.
In the Toronto region, we realize that our long-term economic success depends on maintaining affordable housing and expanding our transit, active transportation and park systems. We know that our education, health care and immigration systems are a competitive advantage, along with our stability and geographic vantage point.
And in Toronto, we know that the development of our Port Lands, for which the city has a planning framework in place, is a huge economic and city-building opportunity that must be approached carefully and with the public interest at heart.
This week was not about Sidewalk and Amazon, but about a city and region that is emerging at the forefront of new industries, new solutions and new jobs. And to maintain our strength, we must apply big thinking to ensuring the vibrancy, affordability and a quality of life of a region where people can continue to thrive.