Pulse Check on Ottawa’s High Tech: Part 4 – Innovation Trends as Measured by Patent Activity Levels

The single most defining factor underlying the development of sustainable high-tech clusters is the ability of the local economy to support innovation and entrepreneurship which has also often described as the startup or entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is true irrespective of which cluster location is analyzed – Ottawa, Waterloo, Calgary, Montreal or San Jose / Silicon Valley. A strong ecosystem is highly collaborative and fosters innovation through the sharing of ideas and fostering partnerships and networks.  The startup ecosystem can be comprised of several key elements including the presence of federal government research labs, strong university linkages to private industry, presence of major anchor technology firms, accessibility to venture capital, and availability of specialized professional and technical services. Such communities also tend to be very resilient whereby failures of individual companies like Nortel can spin-off new technology firms. Continue reading


Pulse Check on Ottawa’s High Tech: Part 3 – The Geography of the Branham300


In the previous post, I looked at employment in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services as an indicator of economic performance of Ottawa’s high-tech sector and its competitive position relative to other Canadian cities. In this post, I will look at the changing distribution of head office locations of Information Communications Technology (ICT) firms in Canada as another high-tech performance indicator.

My analysis is based on the widely recognized and referenced Branham300 which, according to their website, is the definitive listing of Canada’s top publicly traded and privately held ICT companies, as ranked by revenues. By the distribution of ICT head offices and changes in the distribution over time, one is able to assess the competitiveness of metropolitan areas as high-tech centres. Head offices of companies are often play a vital role in local economies because they typically employ highly skilled professionals and are major purchasers high-end professional services such as auditing, management consulting and financial services. More importantly, head offices are the decision making units within corporations determining how corporate resources are invested and allocated (Conference Board of Canada). Still, it is useful to keep in mind that the location of head offices may not always coincide to where the corporate researchers, thinkers and innovators are found. For example, Nortel’s head office was located in Brampton, Ontario but its largest R&D facility was in Ottawa. Similarly, RIM (Blackberry) had its main R&D facility in Ottawa while its head office was in Waterloo.  Continue reading

Pulse Check on Ottawa’s High Tech: Part 2 – Employment Trends in the Knowledge Intensive Industry


Employment data are a widely used for tracking economic change in industries and communities. Employment is especially important to communities where companies are located because job growth means new opportunities to earn income for younger workers and new immigrants / in-migrants or for existing workers looking for more rewarding jobs. Sustained investment in capital such as new office buildings or technology typically reflects a more resilient  and healthy local economy.

In this post, I will compare employment trends in the Professional, Scientific and Technical (PST) services sector between Ottawa and other selected metropolitan areas. As I noted in my previous introduction blog, Statistics Canada does provide employment data for the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector but only for fee based special tabulations. Statistics Canada’s ICT sector includes both manufacturing (e.g. communications equipment, semi-conductor and other electronic components, computer and peripheral equipment) and service industries such as software publishers, data processing, computer systems design and telecommunications carriers.  Continue reading

Pulse Check on Silicon Valley North: Part 1 – Introduction

The 1980’s and 1990’s were exciting times in Ottawa’s economic scene. An article published in the New York Times  in 1981 observed that Ottawa’s reputation as a “staid, sleepy, inward-looking city with traditional ways” has faded with the region’s “emergence as the country’s biggest center for advanced technology research and manufacturing, particularly in telecommunications”. It looked like Ottawa was finally going to break away from the economic grip of the federal government with bullish predictions of a high-tech work force reaching 100,000 by 1990 and exceeding the number of civil servants. New home-grown companies started at dizzying levels around the flagship anchor company – Nortel Networks Corporation (formerly known as Northern Telecom Limited). The high technology sector was also booming in the 1990s with companies like Nortel, JDS Uniphase Inc. and Alcatel SA  hiring thousands of people. Although Ottawa’s high-tech sector never did quite reach the 100,000 employment mark, by the turn of the new millennium, Ottawa had emerged as one of North America’s prime high tech growth centres. Continue reading