Invest Ottawa launches new international campaign to attract tech workers

Ottawa's economic development agency has launched a new international campaign with a simple goal: convince talented technology workers to relocate to Canada's capital.

Campaign in high gear as Donald Trump makes his 'hire American' promise

There are plenty of empty cubicles in the Ottawa office of Jabil, a Florida-headquartered company. But CEO Cyril McKelvie says he hopes to attract new recruits — and soon. (CBC)

Ottawa's economic development agency has launched a new campaign designed to attract international technology talent to the nation's capital.

Invest Ottawa's "Work in Ottawa" campaign, which officially launched last week, boasts about the city's research and development focus, its quality of life, and its lower cost of living than most U.S. — and also some Canadian — centres.

"Ottawa is often mischaracterized as purely a government town," said Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay.

"It's got a great cost of living. I think we're number two in the country for salaries [and we have] a great diversity in our marketplace."

Targeting New York, Texas and elsewhere

Right now, a quick browse through corporate job boards shows hundreds of technology positions going unfilled in the capital, at companies including Apple, Syntronic, Kinaxis, QNX and Adobe — and the number of job vacancies is expected to increase.

Ottawa's current software darling, Shopify, is looking to fill dozens of posts from translators to legal counsel to software engineers as well, and has plans to hire more than 2,000 people in the next two years.

As a result, Invest Ottawa is currently running digital ads, newsletters, and other content in such key targets as the states of New York, California, Massachussetts, Texas and Florida to get the word out about the local opportunities.

Incoming Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay starts the job on March 2. (submitted)

The economic development agency piloted its campaign last fall, but put it into high gear last week, coinciding with U.S. President Donald Trump's promise to "hire American" — a pledge that's putting fear into many highly skilled technology workers in the U.S. on work visas. 

"We had over three million people engage with our ads. We have built a list of over 1,000 candidates in a database. We send them latest postings on our Work In Ottawa job board," said Ryan Gibson, marketing strategist at Invest Ottawa.

Shortly after Trump's election, CBC spoke to several ex-pat Canadians working in the U.S. Many said they would come home if and when they found the right opportunity. 

'We're not just a government town'

Now, Invest Ottawa wants to highlight those local opportunities — with Canadians working abroad, foreign workers concerned about their U.S. work visas, and tech workers simply seeking a different lifestyle among the targets of the campaign.

Cyril McKelvie who runs Ottawa's Jabil office — a photonics company headquartered in Florida — said that when he was at a recent conference in California, he was cornered by about half a dozen engineers curious about its Canadian operations.

"People approached us about our design capability in Ottawa, specifically because they were interested in potentially relocating to Canada. They were people who had visas in the U.S.," said McKelvie.

We need to be more aggressive about what's really good here [in Ottawa].- Cyril McKelvie

He said there's good reason to get the word out about Ottawa's cost of living and quality of life compared to other technology centres, especially  California's Silicon Valley. 

A home in Ottawa that might cost $500,000 will go for closer to $2 million in San Jose, he said. 

That's partly why Ottawa needs to get out of its shell, McKelvie added, and sell itself internationally.

"Being Canadian, we're not good at promoting ourselves," said McKelvie.

"We need to be more aggressive about what's really good here, with the idea that we're not just a government town. We struggle with that even inside the province of Ontario. We need to be more aggressive, but at some levels, it's not in [our] nature."