Following a wide-ranging strategy session held at Shopify’s downtown Toronto office, mayors from Toronto and Waterloo Region announced today that the two cities will join forces to promote the area as an international innovation corridor, while stepping up their advocacy for vital infrastructure, including all-day/two-way GO Transit service connecting the two cities.

“I’m so heartened by the need to build our reputation,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory, who added that startups and investors are drawn to the Toronto-Waterloo Region corridor for its diverse and well-educated labour force. “We need more and more people to see what we’re doing here.”

Noting that Waterloo Region has attracted 1,800 startups and $650 million in investment capital in recent years, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said that stepped-up efforts by the municipalities between Toronto and Waterloo to promote the corridor will draw more entrepreneurs and international investment capital. “We look forward to collaborating with Toronto to build on our collective success.”

The two mayors announced that they’ll be traveling to San Francisco and Silicon Valley to promote the Toronto-Waterloo corridor at a CityAge conference on April 5 and 6. “We’re going to take a tag-team approach,” said Tory, who is also scheduled to visit Waterloo Region in March.

They also launched a website which will promote the corridor. It was built and will be managed in partnership with Toronto startups, incubators, accelerators, funders and educational institutions.

During break-out sessions that took place before the mayors fielded media questions, participants discussed opportunities to strengthen the region’s startups and innovation-based firms. These included:

  • More flexible government procurement rules. Tory pointed out that public procurement policies focus on low-cost suppliers and tend to favour larger companies with the resources to bid on large projects. That framework, he says, tends to disadvantage smaller firms with innovative approaches to long-standing public sector challenges. “We heard that message,” he said.
  • More proactive dialogue with tech innovators. With new technologies like Uber and driverless vehicles poised to make significant changes to the way cities function, the mayors said it’s clear they need to find ways to better understand the impact of future technologies. “We can’t be a place that is reacting to innovation,” said Tory. “We have to anticipate it and embrace it.”

Vrbanovic pointed out that the single most important factor in unlocking the potential of the Toronto-Waterloo corridor will be improved transportation and transit options for the thousands of knowledge workers who now commute between the two centres.

He said that with Toronto politicians now joining Waterloo Region’s fight for much-improved GO service, the chances of finding sustainable short- and long-term solutions has improved. “Ultimately, moving people matters.”

Both Tory and Vrbanovic agreed that the continuing discussion about markedly improved transit along the 100-km corridor should include serious consideration of high speed rail. “We’re one of the only regions in the western world that doesn’t have [high-speed rail],” said Vrbanovic. Added Tory: “We have to find ways to say ‘yes.’ Otherwise, we are selling ourselves short.”

Photo: Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic (left) looks on as Toronto Mayor John Tory addresses reporters at Shopify’s Toronto office today.