Montréal: Technology's New Hub

Executive Interview:
Louise Thiboutot, Sr. Director, Foreign Investments, Montréal International


March 19, 2018: Montréal is experiencing a boom. From record breaking investments in Artificial Intelligence startups to major technology players IBM and Facebook establishing a foothold in region, the city continues to thrive and grow in to a major global technology hub. Following the 2018 CAMSS Québec conference, CAMSS World spoke with Louise Thiboutot, Senior Director of Foreign Investments at strategic partner Montréal International to gain an understanding as to why the city is becoming such an attractive proposition for startups, tech giants and investors alike.

1. Can you begin with providing a brief overview of Montréal International's organization and activities?

Montréal International acts as an economic driver for Greater Montréal to attract foreign wealth while accelerating the success of its partners and clients.

Created in 1996, Montréal International (MI) is the result of a private-public partnership. Its mission is to contribute to the economic development of Greater Montréal and enhance its international status. Its mandates include attracting foreign direct investmentsinternational organizations and international strategic workers as well as promoting the competitive and international environment of Greater Montréal. Montréal International—a non-profit organization—is funded by the private sector, the governments of Canada and Québec, the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (Montréal Metropolitan Community) and the City of Montréal.

Greater Montréal’s economic performance in 2017 was outstanding, mainly due to an increase in activities from abroad. Greater Montréal has never been so attractive to foreign investors and we must continue to leverage our assets to support growth in its leading-edge sectors.

2. How is Montréal International helping to grow the city's technology footing and become a major international technology hub?

In 2017, Montréal International helped 48 foreign companies locate or expand in the Greater Montréal, facilitating a record $2.025 billion in foreign direct investment, an increase of over 50% compared to 2016 and of over 100% compared to 2015.

These projects, which account for 15% of Québec’s economic growth in 2017, resulted in 5,233 direct quality jobs to be created or maintained.

Once again this year, high-tech sectors (ICT, Aerospace, Life sciences and Health Technologies) continue to be an economic driver with $1 billion in investments, i.e. 50% of the results. Investments supported by MI originate mainly from Europe with 64%, ahead of the Americas with 28% and Asia with 8%.

The AI sector itself had 11 of the 48 projects, which is nearly a quarter of all projects that received support from MI this year.

Having a significant number of world-renowned researchers, a collaborative ecosystem and a highly qualified pool of talent have enabled Greater Montréal to attract leading global players such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and DeepMind.

Montréal International has also taken note that a growing number of companies, regardless of industry, will also be leveraging on AI to develop new projects in the coming years.

3. How do you feel Montréal compares with other major Canadian cities when it comes to the technology industry?

Montréal has by far the highest concentration of tech sector jobs in Canada, with over 220,000 people employed in these sectors in 2016 —this represents a 70%-higher concentration than the Canadian average.

Montréal’s technological strength and diversity are recognized at the North American and international levels. Its gaming hub is the 5th largest in the world and the largest one in Canada, its aerospace hub is the 2nd largest in North America after Seattle, its life science sector ranks 6th, and its ICT sector is 8th. Greater Montréal is also a world leader in AI and one of the largest visual effects hubs in the world with the highest industry concentration in Canada.

Greater Montréal’s high-tech sectors are experiencing explosive growth as the city offers them everything they need to thrive: a deep pool of highly skilled talent, a high concentration of global players, a booming startup community and specialized research and development centres.

4. Montréal is experiencing a bit of a 'tech boom' at the moment, with a number of large, international companies establishing a presence in the city. What do you believe are the key reasons for this?

2017 was a stellar year for Montréal’s economy.

Real GDP rose 3.5%, posting the strongest increase since the turn of the century, while employment grew by 3.6%, the highest rate since 1998. The city’s economy is on fire. And the cranes dominating the skyline are proof that major public and private investment projects are under way. Greater Montréal’s job market was particularly hot in 2017, as the participation rate hit a record high (67.0%) and the unemployment rate fell to a record low (6.6%).

One reason the economy is doing so well is that foreign investment and talent have been pouring in from abroad like never before.

International immigration peaked at over 53,000 and the number of international students attending Greater Montréal universities jumped by over 10% in 2017. Air and marine traffic also reached unprecedented levels, with over 18 million passengers (a 9.5% increase) and over 38 million tonnes of cargo handled (a 7.6% increase).

What’s more, in 2017, Montréal International helped a record number of businesses and workers settle and succeed in Montréal. Most of them chose to invest or work in the city’s high-tech sectors, such as AI, gaming, visual effects, aerospace, fintech and life sciences and health technologies.

To sum up, seeing how foreign talent and investment drove Greater Montréal’s economy in 2017, we cannot but agree that keeping our economy open is the best thing we can do respond to the current wave of protectionism sweeping the globe.

5. Why is Montréal a valuable proposition for startup tech companies?

Montréal features a strong community which is strengthened and maintained through startup events such as Startup Fest and supportive non-profits and incubators such as Montréal NewTech and Notman House. Among the 50 incubators, accelerators and collaborative workplaces in Greater Montréal, McGill’s Dobson Centre ranked 8th in the world in the UBI Global Ranking 2017/2018 World Top Business Incubator – Managed by a University category.

One of the biggest advantages that Montréal has over other cities is an affordable real estate market that allows local startups to keep their costs low. While the cost of living continues to increase in other major cities, housing prices remain low.

Montréal also boasts a strong talent pool due to the city’s many universities and technical institutes. Exceptional business graduates populate the city due to Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, while local technical schools create an eager and capable engineering workforce. 

Below is Montréal International’s blog regarding a recent study on Montréal’s ecosystem for start-ups, that can be downloaded here.

Montréal International is pleased with the report on the startup ecosystem providing the first detailed profile, along with figures, of this fully thriving community that has helped boost the local economy and enhanced Greater Montréal’s international profile.

The city has set itself apart due to its vibrant startups (between 1,800 to 2,600 startups), a skilled pool of talent (about 8,000 employees), a solid support network, spinoffs of more than $700 million in direct and indirect production and $360 million in venture capital investments over the past five years. Some 22% of the startups mentioned that they hold at least one patent and 67% of the startups state that they offer a product or service that meets the smart city market. This should not come as a surprise since the Intelligent Community Forum named Montréal as its 2016 Intelligent Community of the Year.

Moreover, in 2017, Montréal was ranked 1st in Canada for venture capital investments with $800 million (+64% since 2016) for 63 transactions according to PwC Canada.

Startups are a strong driving force for innovation and contribute to Greater Montréal’s economic growth. In focusing on the vibrant startup ecosystem, the study will certainly attract high value-added international technology companies to the city.

It was determined that no less than 41% of the 8,000 individuals working in the Montréal startup ecosystem were foreign-born. The availability of foreign talent is one of the main factors that makes the city so attractive to businesses, according to Montréal International.

6. What are your goals for 2018?

In the past few years, Greater Montréal has positioned itself as a global hub for a number of leading-edge industries, including AI, gaming, visual effects, aerospace, and life sciences and health technologies. The number of investors we have supported in 2017 shows that Montréal has never been as attractive on the international stage and that our city has what it takes to be recognized as a prime destination for FDI in the coming years: a dynamic business climate, vibrant high-tech sectors, top-ranked universities and research centres, unmatched quality of life, and a highly skilled, creative and bilingual workforce.

For more information on Montréal International visit www.montrealinternational.com.