Invest Ottawa following political shifts to attract foreign investment

Trump, Brexit and global instabilities can play to Ottawa’s advantage, economic development agency says
Globe

As companies scour the globe for markets that are both financially and physically safe to explore, Invest Ottawa says it’s helping local companies capitalize on shifting political tides.

Every year, the economic development agency undergoes a strategic review to identify which markets are hot internationally, and decides where it can best court foreign-direct investment.

“We go where the companies really want to go,” says Blair Patacairk, Invest Ottawa’s managing director of investment and trade.

China often comes up in this discussion, with trade delegations between Ottawa and Chinese cities regularly crossing oceans. Invest Ottawa hosted delegates from the China Entrepreneurs Club last fall, and has also recently helped establish a Chinese cleantech firm in the city.

One of the international markets that doesn’t garner as much hype is Europe, but Patacairk says recent events have made Canada’s connections with the continent increasingly pertinent. Many of Invest Ottawa’s strongest contacts in Europe are in London and other parts of the United Kingdom. While he says those connections remain strong, after last year’s Brexit vote, the need to branch out into Europe is paramount.

“We are looking for good in-line roads into the European market in general. A door closes, one opens,” he says.

One way Invest Ottawa has been able to do that is through its soft-landing program for cybersecurity firms with the Netherlands, a partnership between Invest Ottawa, its counterparts in the Hague and the two countries’ embassies. The program allows companies from Ottawa and the Hague to set up a few representatives in the partner market for three to six months as a low-risk test case for running an office there.

“The Hague is one of the largest centres for cybersecurity in Europe,” says Dana Borschewski, Invest Ottawa’s European market director.

The benefit of the economic partnership could be a game-changer for the Hague’s cybersecurity companies hoping to do business with Canada’s federal government, and for Ottawa-based companies looking to get into Europe.

Borschewski says Europe isn’t necessarily an overlooked market, but it hasn’t generated the same hype that rising economies across the world have – the value has always been there, it’s just not top of mind today.

“Yes, China, the U.S., India, Brazil are some of the top ones, but there’s been a lot of stability in trade and foreign direct investment from European countries over many, many years,” she says.

“It’s not that it’s not being talked about, it’s just been very stable. There hasn’t been a big rise or fall.”

“With everything that’s going on with Trump, especially with immigration, there definitely is a newer focus on Canada specifically.”

Patacairk says political instability is a key factor in whether companies choose to do business in a country. For example, he says companies are sometimes wary of investing in countries such as Russia, often cited as a rising economy in line with the other BRIC-nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

Borschewski says that uncertainty also applies to the United States, adding that Canada serves to benefit as confidence in its nearby North American neighbour wanes.

“Most of the European companies look to the States first. With everything that’s going on with Trump, especially with immigration, there definitely is a newer focus on Canada specifically.”

When companies make the decision to relocate or open new international offices, Patacairk says landing in a hot market is just one factor: they’re running a business, yes, but that’s just a portion of their day.

“Being part of a community, that matters,” he says.