Clare Barnett
November 24, 2017

The global economy is continuously changing in unprecedented ways.

Companies are expanding across borders and seeking talented workers more often – and at a quicker pace. Attracting foreign direct investment to Ontario, Canada is a top priority for us. Helping businesses and the communities in which they’re located thrive, and in turn, ensuring people have good jobs and an appealing quality of life are why we do what we do. By working closely with global investment representatives over the course of my career, I have gained some unique insight into the FDI environment.

The digital revolution combined with the projected growth of emerging economies to outpace developed ones present huge challenges for businesses. To remain competitive, companies need to connect with new customers in unfamiliar territory, protect their core from the risks of still volatile, maturing markets, and harness high-quality talent from around the world. It's a set of overlapping problems those of us in government recognize, and Ontario has been making decisions to help businesses thread that needle.

I recently spoke at the City Nation Place conference where the conversation focused on international place branding ideas. The discussion also attempted to tackle how we can best address the challenges to help enhance our FDI practices.

Overall, we see that innovation, diversity and education of local talent are a growing focus for many, and increasingly, companies are using unconventional ways to set themselves apart.

In the business world, it’s no longer always ‘us’ and ‘them’. Competitors are partnering with each other to spark collaboration and innovation, and we’re seeing more examples of ‘help me, help you’. Large enterprises are co-establishing incubators and accelerators, and partnering with start-ups. Incubators are collaborating with universities on R&D.

Ontario’s own Bayview Yards innovation centre is one example of this. The first entrepreneurial hub of its kind in the Ottawa region, this one-stop business acceleration shop serves as basecamp for some of Ottawa’s homegrown talent and companies. It offers a ‘mash-up’ of technical business and market services, resources and expertise that enable entrepreneurs and companies to launch, grow and compete on the global stage.

Here are three areas where we, at the Ontario Investment Office (OIO), are focusing our attention to stay ahead of the wave of change, ensuring companies have the information they need to make smart FDI decisions.

Building a strong digital presence

We recognize smart devices have dramatically changed how people consume and share information. People now spend, on average, more than 12 hours a day consuming media. Digital platforms are outpacing even television, and mobile is growing the fastest among all other mediums. Taking a similar approach to that of many companies, including news publishers, we’ve become mobile-first with the information we share digitally. This includes creating short and catchy videos between 30 seconds and two minutes that target the sweet spot of people’s attention span. Infographics and interactive content are another great way to grab the audience’s attention and share information quickly. It’s also important to recognize where the people you want to reach gather on digital platforms. Leads are not only captured through a website anymore; LinkedIn, for instance, has become a critical doorway for new business opportunities. And it’s become our habit now to tailor the message based on the channel it’s being broadcast across – whether that’s LinkedIn, Twitter, or one of the many other distribution channels now available – and targeting the specific audience we want to reach, be it by geographical area, specific events, or one of many other characteristics.

Using emerging technologies

Digital options available to us have dramatically increased over recent years, and we would be remiss to not take advantage of these. At the OIO, we aim to stay up-to-date with new and emerging technologies to ensure we are offering the best service for our partners. For instance, starts-ups across Ontario and Canada are developing exciting artificial intelligence products that can greatly improve the work we do. ROI Research on Investment, a Canadian technology company offering modern economic development services, is an example of how this new technology can help inform major FDI decisions. Their lead generation tool uses AI to forecast which companies are slated to grow, insight that can then be used to match burgeoning organizations to the talent pools and locations that will sustain their success. It’s a powerful example of how new technology isn’t just fueling balance sheets, it’s mapping out the cities they’ll call home.

Fostering personal relationships

While bringing new technology into business decision-making is necessary to stay current, we can’t lose sight of the people. When developing opportunities, we look for ambassadors and influencers in our priority markets and work with our business connections to help them help us spread the word about Ontario’s advantages. By partnering with them and tapping into their networks, we can build new, personal relationships with people in the local markets, which helps us drive authentic and effective collaboration.

We’re confident that, by remaining focused on the intersection of technology and personal relationships, we can ride the wave of change and avoid letting it crash over our heads. In fact, we’re already doing it – check out the figures below. There will be more to come, so keep watching this space.

Ontario’s Advantage – Fast Facts

So far in 2017, Ontario has attracted 128 FDI projects, a 17 per cent increase from last year

68% of adults in Ontario have completed post-secondary education, more than any OECD country

Ontario has committed to increasing STEM graduates by 25 per cent over the next 5 years

According to fDi Intelligence's 2017 report on global greenfield investment, Ontario has become a top-three worldwide destination for capital investment

Canada continued its rise in the annual Nation Brands report ranking 7th in the most recent survey

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