Skating Out of the Dark « Back to Search Results

By SIte Selection Magazine

Enter Canada’s capital city after a winter sunset and you will see its citizens still skating for miles along the frozen Rideau Canal, most of them making their way by the ambient light from the city, the occasional bonfire, the moon and the stars.

The light that shoots down fiber-optic lines has driven much of Ottawa’s economic development success over the past 30 years. Some of those firms have gone dark themselves, but the sector, the talent and a heritage of ingenuity skate on.

Look no further than Swedish electronics, electro-mechanical and embedded software design firm Syntronic, which just established its first North American design center in Ottawa in December 2014. Employing 450 R&D engineers worldwide, the company maintains seven centers in Europe and 11 sites in Asia. The 30-person site in Ottawa’s well known tech cluster in Kanata is projected to grow by another 90 employees over the next five years, as the firm delivers solutions for companies in sectors ranging from automotive and transportation to medical devices and defense.

“We set up a strategy a few years back to cover three major time zones globally,” says Hans Molin, managing director and president of Syntronic Canada, restarting a location feasibility study that originally had taken place in 2001 but was postponed when the IT bubble burst. The search evaluated Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa. Ongoing US projects made San Diego a candidate as well. But a primary location trigger was Syntronic’s wish to be close to where customers maintain their own R&D. Not only did the majority of its customers have R&D in Ottawa, they also displayed more interest. “We ended up with Ottawa as our best choice,” Molin explains, in part because of the ability to reach into the US market.

Why not just go directly to the US then?

“Mainly because of the skill sets available here, and the history here in Ottawa in the field of wireless — that is one of our core competencies,” explains Molin. Even after the fall of Nortel, Ottawa welcomed other investments from top-shelf corporations such as Ericsson, and still is home to 95 percent of Canadian telecom R&D. The area boasts 400-plus telecom and wireless companies, and an ICT talent base of 35,000.

Syntronic received a referral to Invest Ottawa, the local economic development organization, from a potential client. “That was one of the smartest moves we made,” Molin says. “You need access to lawyers, accountants, business people and bank people. We got tremendous support from Invest Ottawa in terms of hiring people, we got the opportunity to use their office space, and we got a good overview of potential customers in the market.”

Within the space of a week during the summer of 2014, Molin had found office space, filed all the necessary paperwork, hired 30 people (from among 100 interviewed), found a home in Kanata and even enrolled his children in schools, ballet lessons and, of course, hockey.

“I’ve done this before, in Malaysia, China and other parts of Europe,” says Molin. “When I try to compare the different sites or different incentives, I would say Canada would tie with Malaysia in terms of [ease in] setting up a company.”

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