The GTA has what it takes

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been declared Canada’s SMART community and a strong investment alternative to California’s Silicon Valley, according to a recent study by Deloitte & Touche.

The Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance (GTMA) commissioned the study in order to prove to the rest of the what it already knew, said Kenneth Copeland, president and CEO of the GTMA.

“We wanted some facts. Over the past 25 years, [technology has] become a significant industry in the GTA, but there was never a profile done, so it always took second place to other locations.”

The study looked at 10 major centres in North America: the GTA; Silicon Valley; Montreal; Ottawa; Austin, Tx.; Boston; New York; Raleigh, N.C.; Seattle; and Washington. Key attributes were divided into 10 categories: information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) breadth and depth, access to IT&T enablers, telecom infrastructure, research and development programs, IT&T labour force, availability of top executives, access to higher education, business costs, costs of living and quality of life.

It showed the GTA is well represented in every factor across all 11 sectors that make up the area, which spans the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham, as well as the City of Toronto, Copeland said.

“That represents about 4 .8 million people, and is growing at about 100,000 a year. That’s more than average growth when compared to any national statistic and the IT&T industry has been a big part of that.”

When companies are looking to expand to other cities, one thing they look for is a cluster of technology activity, he said. “So the fact that the GTA is so well represented in all these areas means that there are suppliers, customers, labour, education at the university and college level and call centres. These things are all here because the industry is so rich here.”

Maneesh Mehta, a partner in the management solutions division of Deloitte & Touche and coordinator of the study, said the GTA ranked very favourably in all areas investigated.

“Silicon Valley came out ahead on most of those attributes, and that’s understandable, because it’s sort of the hub of the whole IT&T industry. But after that, the GTA was right up there with the likes of Boston or New York,” he said.

“The GTA got the highest ranking for IT&T enablers, for the telecom infrastructure, access to higher education and quality of life.”

According to Mehta, some people were surprised at how high the GTA ranked in the study. “The people that we talked to at the outset knew it was a big industry, but nobody really knew there was over 3,000 companies or that there was such a (technology) presence in all the segments, or that the whole package was so strongly represented in the GTA,” he said.

Don Cousens, Mayor of the Town of Markham, said the GTA’s highly-educated and competent workforce is feeding the economic growth of the area. “If [technology companies] are looking at North America, the GTA will be a place to look. And now they will be able to get insight, in a detailed way, to what is here and how they can access it,” he said.

“There was a time where you could be more casual about it – but you can’t now (because) there’s such competition between cities and countries for technological investments.”

Bill Bell, Mayor of the Town of Richmond Hill, agreed the study may help to attract more IT business to the area.

“One of the unique things about technology companies is that they love to be in close proximity [to each other],” he said.

The GTMA’s Copeland said the information gleaned from the study will be an invaluable resource for marketing the area.

“If you don’t have a good story, then people won’t recognize you. So we want to make sure our strength is understood both here in the GTA and internationally. So when companies are looking to putting a new location in North America, they don’t just think of Boston or Washington.”

IBM Corp.’s decision to locate its software lab in the GTA is a major example of this, he said. “I know [that decision] included looking at many, many options across the world, not just North America.”

Copeland stressed, however, that the study is not meant to diminish other Canadian locations. “We wanted to emphasize the strengths of the Toronto area. But frankly, if one part of Canada thrives, we all thrive.”