Ottawa falls out of top 10 in CBRE's latest ranking of North American tech talent hubs

Ottawa night skyline

Ottawa has dropped out of the top 10 in an annual ranking of Canadian and U.S. tech hubs compiled by a global real estate firm, thanks in part to rising labour costs that caused the capital to fall slightly in the affordability category.

CBRE’s 2022 Scoring Tech Talent report ranks 50 North American markets according to each city’s ability to attract and grow tech talent. The survey measures more than a dozen metrics, including tech graduation rates, tech-job concentration and tech labour pool size as well as labour and real estate costs, among other factors. 

After cracking the top 10 for the first time in 2021, Ottawa fell to 13th in this year’s rankings. It was the third-highest-ranking Canadian city after Toronto (No. 3) and Vancouver (No. 8). As in 2021, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle claimed the top two spots in the rankings. 

Overall, Ottawa scored 55.51 points this year, down from 57.34 in 2021. CBRE Ottawa managing director Louis Karam said the dip was due largely to "moderation" in the brokerage's five-year tech industry growth outlook for the city, which uses the end of 2021 as a starting point – roughly the same time industry leaders like Shopify started getting battered by an ongoing stock selloff.

In an email to OBJ Friday afternoon, Karam said the city's five-year growth rate is still projected to be positive despite the recent market turbulence, adding Ottawa's overall score is "not materially different" from last year.

According to CBRE, tech employment in Ottawa grew by 22.3 per cent between 2016 and 2021.

It says the city now has 81,200 workers in its tech talent labour pool, which the real estate firm defines as more than 20 key tech professions including software developers, systems and data managers and others across all industries. That’s up from 74,000 workers a year earlier.

(By contrast, data from Statistics Canada – which defines tech employment more narrowly around information and communication technology firms – says about 55,000 local residents are employed in tech fields.) 

The city continues to score high marks for having the highest concentration of tech talent relative to its overall workforce of any city in the top 50, with 11.6 per cent of all workers employed in tech – just ahead of San Francisco’s rate of 11.4 per cent. Ottawa has now held that distinction for three years running.

But the capital dropped one position in the ranking of annual operating costs – which combine average annual wage and office expenses in each market – due to a bump in labour costs. The average tech worker in Ottawa earned $93,579 last year, CBRE said, up about two per cent from $91,666 in 2020.

Ottawa still fared well in terms of overall affordability, placing 44th in the total amount of money a 500-employee tech firm leasing 75,000 square feet of office space shelled out last year for labour and office expenses.

CBRE said those costs added up to US$36 million last year, making Ottawa the second-most expensive Canadian city on the list behind the Waterloo region. According to the firm’s calculations, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City were all more affordable places in which to do business in 2021.