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On the US Election, Tech, and Coming Home

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Since the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, the path forward has been a bit foggy. There is one straightforward result, however, which impacts Canada’s largest tech community.

Why is tech different?

Shortly after the U.S. declared a president-elect, Fortune’s editorial director, Adam Lashinsky, penned a short column on the new reality for the tech industry.

In the November 9, 2016 Forbes Data Sheet Download on Technology, Lachinsky dismissed the plunge in markets as transitory (rightly). However, he was not sanguine for the longer term, writing:

Plunging equity values would put a damper on all the M&A that has been remaking the tech landscape. A U.S. trade war with China would hit technology companies hard, given how they have outsourced their manufacturing to China and have begun to count on it as a major end market. A protectionist country with an unpredictable president is no place to do serious business.

Strong stuff. But Lachinsky’s closing thought really caught my attention (emphasis mine):

“Obama-loving Silicon Valley, a region replete with rags-to-riches stories of immigrants who parlayed their brains into great fortunes, will find no friend in the new White House.”

This begs the question: Does this pivot open opportunities for other countries that are a bit more accommodating?

Silicon Valley is not the only tech hub

The short answer is “yes,” according to Craig Haney, Head of Corporate Innovation at Communitech in Kitchener – but beyond that, there is a strategy already in place, being executed, and available to be ramped up in the current environment.

Communitech is an industry-led innovation centre, located in Kitchener – a growing city one hour west of Toronto – that supports, fosters and celebrates a community of nearly 1,000 tech companies. One of the biggest challenges is attracting and retaining talented tech professionals. As an example, Haney notes that Google Canada has more than 1,500 open requisitions for developers.

To address this, Communitech works with its partners to market Canada generally – and Kitchener specifically – as a great location for tech professionals. Canadians who were recruited away from home to the Mecca of Silicon Valley comprise a major target. Communitech use awareness events, advertising, and person-to-person discussions to encourage repatriation.

The outward-facing site, run by Communitech, is GoNorthCanada.ca

But why go home?

Recruitment from Silicon Valley is a challenge, but Canada has some powerful tools to use, according to Haney:

  • We can match some of the same leading edge tech environment and projects;
  • We have active funding sources for start-ups;
  • While we can’t match gross income directly, we can match net compensation with lower costs of housing;
  • There are a number of Canadians in Silicon Valley who are open to returning to the Canadian environment;
  • The Canadian government continues to tweak regulations for immigrants;
  • Hiring companies and Communitech have developed concierge services to help returnees and newcomers.

Several times in our talk, Haney said, “It’s Canada’s time.”

And then it happened …

The president-elect is not the only prescient tweeter. The day before the U.S. election, John Tory – Toronto’s Mayor – tweeted:

A timely billboard has gone up along Highway 101 between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. #ElectionDay

untitled

Like Canada itself, it is subtle, yet sincere.

If this is successful, will Silicon Valley be gutted?

Hardly. The history of the area is legend. We are hearing U.S. citizens looking at Canada as a refuge after the election, but this was the case in 2000 when George Bush was elected. The exodus was more of a drip than a flood.

However, Canadian nationals are different

Targeting Canadians is a focused pitch in an otherwise unfocused environment. Haney notes that Communitech has been working on this program for some time, but the election is a catalyst.

“This will encourage a lot of ex-pat Canadians to look into what is happening back home, and this is our chance to let them know about the huge career opportunities here that maybe weren’t available when they left.” he says.

What do you think?

It’s early days. Lots could happen, or nothing at all. But we have to give it to Communitech for being prepared.

 

Editor’s note: Craig Haney, Communitech’s Head of Corporate Innovation, will be the keynote speaker at the 2017 Insurance-Canada Technology Conference on February 28, 2017. Details at ICTC2017.

 

One Comment

Stephen Applebaum

As almost everyone now knows, accurately predicting anything to do with Donald Trump accurately is a fool’s errand.

However, Justin Trudeau has already proclaimed that Canada is willing to renegotiate NAFTA so that door has been unnecessarily opened and the Canadian automotive industry is already in the cross hairs – and as it goes so goes much of the tech industry. And I don;t see how any of this is going to help attract U.S. investors to Trudeau’s Canadian Infrastructure Bank scheme.

We’ve already seen evidence that Trump’s election promises and threats will not likely be fully realized and I don’t expect to see anything like the level of “brain drain” that occurred in the past going in the opposite direction – but he is going to have to throw some red meat to his supporters.

So net net, I do not see a Trump Presidency being positive for Canada – but then again who really knows?

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