COVID-19 won’t change everything.
For businesses looking to expand, the basics are still important. Access to new and experienced talent, cost advantages, local business ecosystem, business support programs and resources, R&D capabilities, transportation linkages and access to a global market will remain central parts of every expansion decision.
However, the vulnerabilities that COVID-19 exposed will ensure that three factors play an increased role in all future site selection and expansion decisions.
Here are three new business expansion priorities in a post-COVID world:
The concept of risk isn’t foreign to the business community. It is a part of every product launch and marketing campaign. Indeed, risk has always been an important part of expansion decisions – any multi-million dollar decision is going to have some degree of risk. However, new aspects of risk will begin to play a key role in the expansion decision process due to COVID-19, including political and economic stability, access to health care, access to government support in a crisis, availability of high-quality talent and low/flexible operating costs that reduce risk in a crisis.
Moving forward, communities that have a lower risk profile will present a significant advantage to companies looking to minimize the potential impacts of crises like COVID-19.
The Waterloo Pitch: Waterloo is located in Canada, which has the second-highest political stability rating in the G7 (after Japan) and soundest banking system among G7 countries. Our Marginal Effective Tax Rate (METR) is the lowest in the G7 and we have the world’s most comprehensive trade network, including trade agreements with 60% of the world’s GDP. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Canadian government committed to more than $100 billion in worker and business support programs within the first two weeks.
Like the rest of Canada, people in Waterloo have access to an excellent public-funded health care system – in fact, a study in early 2020 found that Canada is home to the world’s “most developed health care system” (for context, the UK ranked #6 and the US ranked #15). Waterloo is home to one of North America’s top technology universities, one of Canada’s most educated workforces and exceptional cost advantages.
Like risk, resilience is a common term in business that often refers to the ability to withstand or avoid challenges like security breaches, reductions in supply/demand or other operations challenges. However, in the post-COVID world, businesses will have to put more stock in a target community’s resilience in the face of global crises, like a pandemic, major trade disruptions or economic recession. For example, does the target community have a diverse economy that will help protect it from major global shocks? Do they have a history of successful business advocacy and support? Do they have a record of the type of innovation and collaboration that can help businesses pivot, survive and thrive?
The Waterloo Pitch: Don’t let our international reputation as a dynamic tech hub fool you – this community is home to an exceptionally diverse economy. Yes, we have a lot of tech companies (including giants like Google and unicorns like Faire and ApplyBoard), but our biggest employer is the manufacturing industry and our three post-secondary institutions mean we have a lot of public-sector employment as well. We’re also home to Canada’s largest robotics and automation cluster. This diversity helps shield Waterloo from the worst of economic shocks. We also have a history of working together to overcome obstacles, from building a tech ecosystem from scratch to reacting as a community to COVID-19. Finally, we have a record of finding ways to innovate and grow in even the worst-case scenarios – just ask InkSmith or one of the 50+ companies that stepped up to help during the pandemic.
This one is self-explanatory. Remote work wasn’t a priority for many businesses before COVID-19, but it is now and it has two clear consequences. First, it is forcing businesses to confront their own remote readiness since COVID-like crises could happen in the future. Is your business prepared? Second, if a business is expanding, it needs to consider whether the community it’s landing in is prepared for a future of remote work. Is the local workforce experienced in remote work? Is there institutional knowledge and support for companies to rely upon? Did the community have a smooth transition to remote work during COVID-19?
The Waterloo Pitch: Companies in Waterloo are leading the charge when it comes to shifting the workforce toward remote work or work-from-home policies. Tech companies across the region have had flexible work-from-home programs since long before COVID-19, we wrote about one of them last month, and homegrown giants like OpenText are taking a lead role in the corporate world’s shift to remote work. Our community is full of workers who have ample experience with remote work and leaders who were pursuing remote work as a business strategy before it was a requirement. We’re also leading the charge on the broader “Future of Work” initiative, which includes building a partnership between private, public and non-profit sectors to prepare for significant changes to careers, training and more as demographics and the nature of work shift in the coming decade.
Do you want to learn more about why Waterloo is such a great place to expand your company post-COVID? Contact our team today! We can provide detailed information about Waterloo’s economic profile, business listings for key clusters, deep dives into talent sources and more.