Waterloo EDC Blog

Waterloo vs. Detroit

5 Charts: Waterloo vs. Detroit

Posted by Waterloo EDC on October 15, 2020

This is part of a Waterloo EDC series called “5 Charts: Waterloo Versus” that compares our community with some of American’s top tech hubs, including Austin, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Ohio; Salt Lake City, Utah and 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:

Quick Facts_Detroit_July 27, 2021

*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.

**CBRE Scoring Tech Talent 2021

Round One: Tech Talent Density 

Waterloo/Detroit share of high tech employment - Waterloo is at 9.6% and Detroit is at 4.5%

SOURCES: CBRE Scoring Tech Talent, 2021 

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 – and new entrants like Odyssey Interactive – 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 2021 Scoring Tech Talent report named Waterloo the #1 small tech talent market in Canada.

Round Two: Engineering and Computer Science University Program Sizes

Waterloo/Detroit tech student population - Waterloo is at 14,100 and Detroit is at just over 12,000

SOURCES: The University of Waterloo and University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

UWaterloo is a globally competitive tech university with the #1 computer science, engineering and mathematics programs in Canada. It's also top-40 globally for engineering and technology, as well as top-25 for computer science. 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 granted per 100,000 people - Waterloo is at 150 and Detroit is at 77

SOURCE: US Patents & Trademark Office (2015)

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 

Waterloo/Detroit cost of working space (average rent x 75,000 square feet) - Waterloo is at 1.475 million and Detroit is at 1.452 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  

Waterloo/Detroit median tech salaries

SOURCE: ERI Salary Assessor (2021)

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 2020.


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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