Ontario cities prowl U.S. show for IT investment


Among the crowd checking out the booths at this week’s Interop IT conference in New York City are two Ontario residents looking for business. Not to buy or sell products, but to get companies to set up shop in the province.

They are two of the directors of the Ontario Technology Corridor, a group of five major cities that work together to bring information and communications technology companies to either open an office or contract work there.

 “The competition for us is India, it’s China, it’s Latin America, all the BRIC countries [including Brazil, Russia and India.],” Blair Patacairk, a director of the group who is also senior director for direct foreign investment for the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, said Wednesday from the convention centre.

 “So it behoves us to get out on the street and have personal contact with people. We can do a lot of things through the Internet, but we find that when we go to these shows and meet with people face to face and show we’re really interested in attracting them, that competitiveness gets narrowed.”

His group represents the cities immediately around Toronto, the regional governments of Ottawa, Waterloo and Niagara, and the city of London.

Although Interop runs twice a year (there’s also an annual spring show in Las Vegas), this is one the OTC has sent a team to because of the mix of companies – usually infrastructure firms – but also because a number of Ontario IT firms are there.

For example, Huawei Technologies Co., which has a research and development facility in Ottawa, has a big booth at the show and is willing to talk about the province.

When he was interviewed Patacairk had just come from an “awesome” meeting with an unnamed consulting company that specializes in project management and product development, one of 13 appointments he and Larry MacKinnon, London’s director of business development for technology set up before arriving. They scored two more interviews while at the show.

Their goal, Patacairk says simply, is “to get wins” from companies looking to expand their businesses in or into North America.

They do it through the usual things – talk about federal and provincial tax breaks, the number of universities with computer science and engineering courses, the infrastructure and the fact that Canada is a member of the North American free trade association.

But, Patacairk says, many executives want to know why Canada is relatively better off than other economies. “They want o know how we weathered the storm … That impresses them.” So there’s a lot of talk about our regulated financial institutions.

The group’s wins include bringing IT business here that’s not always enterprise-related. For example, it pays a lot of attention to the gaming industry.

One of the OTC’s lobbying efforts in Los Angeles paid off in May when a film company promised to spend $40 million on post-production digital infrastructure.

 “There are of lots of economic development-type of agencies that are competing against each other around the world,” Patacairk says. “So if you’re not here you’re not in the game.”

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