A two-year plan by General Motors Canada to hire up to 750 engineers and software developers, announced as part of an ambitious automotive technology strategy unveiled today, will serve to boost the Toronto-Waterloo Region innovation corridor as a magnet for high-tech employment. The investment will bring to about 1,000 the number of new innovation workers being employed by the automotive giant in southern Ontario.
During a splashy morning press conference which began with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arriving with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in a new Chevy Bolt, senior GM officials said the decision situates the Canadian operation in the middle of a “global innovation supply chain” whose networks will expand to include southern Ontario universities, tech firms and incubators.
“We need a lot of innovative thinking,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s Executive Vice President for Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “This is preparing for the transformation in the future.”
Federal and provincial officials see such moves as evidence an economic development strategy that is not only reducing unemployment, but also producing the type of work that will generate investment in the technology and clean-tech jobs of the future.
“General Motors understands that Canada is home to some of the world’s best engineering firms,” said Trudeau, who pointed to the growth of the innovation clusters in Greater Toronto and Waterloo Region.
Wynne added that GM’s move reinforces her government’s economic long-term game plan, which includes investments in infrastructure, green energy and a push to create what she described as a “twenty-first century innovation ecosystem to compete with Silicon Valleys of the world.”
Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, said the move creates “a huge anchor tenant for the innovation economy” and predicted that GM’s investment in high tech positions will lead to the creation of more manufacturing jobs in the province’s automotive sector.
According to GM officials, the new hires will focus on areas such as active safety and vehicle dynamics technology, on-board infotainment, and connected vehicle technology, as well as autonomous vehicle software and controls development. (At the beginning of the year, Queen’s Park launched a ten-year AV pilot program as part of its push to improve urban mobility.)
GM Canada’s President and Managing Director Steve Carlisle explained that today’s announcement grew from a process his team launched over a year ago. He said they began meeting with university researchers, students and suppliers across souther Ontario to identify potential sources of expertise in areas like navigation technology and environmental controls. The upshot, he said, was a realization that the company could not only draw on the expertise of some of the world’s “leading authorities” but that many were located in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor.
As a consequence, GM began building an innovation network across the region. Earlier this year, for example, the company established the 2908 Communitech Innovation Lab at Communitech in Waterloo Region, as well as an R&D/sales and service “urban mobility hub” in southeast Toronto. During today’s press conference, the company also said it would establish a software development facility in Markham. “A dynamic new auto innovation cluster is emerging right here,” Carlisle said.
Those investments, in turn, will serve to strengthen the integrated tech ecosystem that’s taking root along the corridor. “This is a big deal,” said Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech. He pointed out that GM’s presence at Communitech in particular is fostering new linkages to Waterloo Region’s startup entrepreneurs, investors and universities. “It gives us access to the GM platform.”
Lindsay Farlow, who manages the 2908 Innovation Hub, said the facility will expand to accommodate the company’s enlarged innovation workforce. GM staff rotate through the hub on six-month stints during which they work on new technology projects and business models as well as network with the other startups and investors housed at Communitech. “We’re connecting to all that talent and innovation that’s happening there,” she said.
“You’ve got people who want to have conversations with startups,” added Klugman, “Lindsay is a conduit for us to tap into this much bigger investment.”
The news comes at the end of a week when the Ontario government unveiled details of an ambitious $3.8 billion climate change plan that includes a concerted effort to accelerate the electric vehicle market as a means of reducing emissions related to fossil fuel consumption.
Top photo: (Left to right) GM Canada President Steve Carlisle, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Navdeep Bains, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, at today’s announcement.