Waterloo EDC Blog

Waterloo vs. Detroit

5 Charts: Waterloo vs. Detroit

Posted by Waterloo EDC on October 15, 2020

This is the fifth edition in a new Waterloo EDC series called “5 Charts: Waterloo Versus” that compares our community with some of America’s top tech hubs. We’ve already matched up against Austin, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Ohio and Salt Lake City, Utah. We will soon take on Phoenix, Arizona.

We often compare Waterloo’s exceptional tech credentials to other major cities in Canada like Toronto and Montreal, and major US tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York, where the vast majority of tech investment has traditionally landed.

What we haven’t really dug into – until now – is how our ecosystem stacks up against smaller US tech markets that are showing undeniable momentum, like Columbus, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. We’ve scoured our data and are going head-to-head with tech markets across the United States. We’ve already stepped into the ring with Austin, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Salt Lake City and are now ready to take on Detroit.

You guessed it – the friendly competition continues!

Matchup #5: Waterloo, Canada vs. Detroit, Michigan

Waterloo and Detroit’s similarities make for a good matchup. We both have a strong manufacturing industry and a rapidly growing tech workforce as well as a relatively low cost of living.

Quick Facts:

  Waterloo  Detroit
Population  600,000 670,000
Nearby Universities 3 2*
Total Student Population  77,000+ 31,000+
Big Tech
  • Google
  • Shopify
  • OpenText
  • BlackBerry
  • Oracle NetSuite
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
Total Tech Workforce Growth (5 Years) 51% 12.3%

*When determining the number of universities within both Waterloo and Detroit, we chose to include only those four-year schools that fell within the city limits. There are several leading American universities located in Michigan. Within 100km of Detroit, you can find the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and several other post-secondary institutions. Within 100km of Waterloo Region, you can find Western University, McMaster University, the University of Toronto and several other post-secondary institutions.

Round One: Tech Talent Density 

Tech Talent Density Comparison - Waterloo is 8% and Detroit is at 4.3%

SOURCES: CBRE Scoring Tech Talent, 2019 
Statistics Canada LFS (NOCS), 2019; US Bureau of Labor Statistics (Metro) April 2019

Waterloo continues to lead regarding tech talent density, beating Detroit, as well as Salt Lake City, Austin, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

What contributes to the region’s impressive density?

First, Waterloo is home to Canada’s top technology school, the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo). Second, Canada’s business-friendly immigration programs help Waterloo companies like Google, Shopify, and ApplyBoard attract and retain global talent. Add to that a number of great industry support organizations and it’s clear why Waterloo leads the way.

Bonus fact: The CBRE 2019 Scoring Tech Talent report ranked Waterloo 1st in Canada for overall quality of labour.

Round Two: Engineering and Computer Science University Program Sizes

Waterloo/Detroit Tech Student Comparison - Waterloo has 14,000 and Detroit has 12,038

SOURCES: The University of Waterloo and the University of Utah 

UWaterloo is a globally competitive tech university with the #1 computer science and #2 engineering program in Canada. The university is also home to the world’s largest co-operative education program, meaning that students graduate with up to two years of relevant industry experience. UWaterloo is the top tech university in Canada. To keep it equitable, we chose to compare UWaterloo to the top tech university in Michigan, the University of Michigan.

Round Three: Patents per 100,000 People

Waterloo/Detroit patents per 100,000 people. Waterloo is at 150 and Detroit is at 77

SOURCE: InCities Dataset; Emerging Sources Citation Index (2016).

We were missing data for Detroit’s research output (our comparator in previous editions), so we chose to compare the number of patents awarded in each city as a representation of their research and commercialization capabilities. Waterloo pulled way ahead in this round, with 150 patents granted per 100,000 people.

Waterloo is home to a number of top research centres and business incubators, so it’s no surprise that the region is leading the way.

Round Four: Rent 

Cost of working space comparisons - Waterloo's office rent costs are 1 million per 75,000 square feet and Salt Lake City is also 1 million

SOURCE: CBRE Scoring Tech Talent in North America (2018), Scoring Tech Talent (2018).

We have a tie! Similar to Detroit, in Waterloo, you can find a workspace at a fair rate, without sacrificing access to top-quality talent and important markets.

Round Five: Tech Salaries  

Median tech salaries comparison for Waterloo/Detroit

SOURCE: ERI Salary Assessor (2019).

Once again, Waterloo has the advantage. High-quality talent at a lower cost is a core aspect of Waterloo’s value proposition. In fact, the region was ranked 1st in Canada for tech talent quality to cost by CBRE in 2019.


Waterloo has significant advantages in talent, research productivity and cost compared to Detroit. Yes, we are proud of our community, but the numbers speak for themselves. Want more detailed comparisons?

Click here to download a free data-driven U.S. tech markets comparison

Connect with us today to learn more about Waterloo’s incredible tech ecosystem!


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