A week-long trip to Silicon Valley has given Toronto and Kitchener Mayors John Tory and Berry Vrbanovic the opportunity to woo expats back to Canada and sell what they call "The Corridor" to tech companies and investors.
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The pair have been part of a delegation in California for the CityAge conference this week, on a mission that Tory describes as three-fold.
"Get more people to invest in the corridor, more people to come back home of the – literally – hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are at work down here in Silicon Valley, and more people who want to expand their businesses here in the corridor," Tory said in an interview with The Morning Edition host, Craig Norris, on Wednesday.
Maternity leave, diversity appealing to expats
A big part of the group's time has been spent talking to Canadians who have moved south and figuring out how to repatriate that talent.
Currently, an estimated 350,000 Canadians work in Silicon Valley. Many left Canada years ago and have a dated perception of the Canadian tech sector, Vrbanovic said.
"I think a big part of [why they left] was opportunity, the fact that there were mentoring connections down here that they could establish in a much easier way than they could at home, and I think the second part was access to venture capital," he said.
Tory said the Canadian way of life is starting to look appealing to expats whose parents are pushing them to come back home and put down roots.
"Things we take for granted – maternity leave, the embracing of diversity, the healthcare system – it really rings a bell with them when you mention it. You can see it in their eyes," Tory said.
Canada needs to sell itself
Both mayors said another revelation during their trip has been hearing repeatedly that Canada just isn't doing a good job selling itself as a hotbed for tech investors.
"As proof of that, a guy who was sitting next to me [at a dinner Tuesday night], who runs an $8-billion fund said he wanted to invest in Canada," Tory said.
"It seems we haven't done a very good job figuring out who that guy was, getting him up to the corridor and getting him to invest."
The mayors were in San Francisco until Wednesday before flying to Los Angeles to meet with MAPLE, an organization focused on promoting cross-border investment, entrepreneurship, and trade between Canada and Southern California.