Invest Ottawa ups efforts to recruit U.S. tech talent

Invest Ottawa campaign
Invest Ottawa’s Work in Ottawa campaign

Ottawa’s main economic development agency is joining forces with the city’s largest BIA in an effort to lure tech workers from other North American hot spots such as Silicon Valley.

Invest Ottawa and the Kanata North BIA both launched promotional campaigns this week aimed at encouraging U.S.-based web developers, software engineers and other technology workers to relocate to the National Capital Region. The two agencies will also work together on various ad campaigns designed to highlight the capital’s quality of life, affordability and abundance of high-paying tech jobs.

Ryan Gibson, Invest Ottawa’s lead marketing strategist, says many of Ottawa’s 1,700 technology firms “are facing a bit of a talent crunch” because they’re finding it difficult to find qualified workers in Canada. The problem is not unique to Ottawa, he adds, making the competition for top tech talent in North America more intense than ever.

“The reality is, when you’re looking through the research … all the western, developed tech-focused cities, there’s just more jobs than people,” Mr. Gibson says.

The agency, which recently moved to the new Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards, is running a series of digital advertisements touting Ottawa on websites including TechCrunch and the New York Times.

The campaign also features YouTube videos and Facebook posts on Invest Ottawa’s channels targeted primarily at expatriate Canadians living and working in tech-centric regions such as Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. Perhaps surprisingly, Florida also proved very receptive to the ads in a recent trial campaign.

“Expats are a nice, easy target right now,” Mr. Gibson says. “People seem very concerned about the (political) climate down south. When we did a test a few weeks ago, we were amazed at the level of interest just for some very basic Google ad words. The engagement was off the charts. We know there’s an opportunity there.”

The campaign, dubbed “Work in Ottawa,” is designed to shed the National Capital Region’s stereotypical image as a sleepy government town, with videos that show young tech workers doing jobs such as programming during the day and breakdancing or guiding nature walks at night.

“What we’re trying to do is showcase Ottawa in this new light where, ‘This can be you in Ottawa,’” Mr. Gibson says.

The campaign will run for about 10 weeks, directing potential recruits to a new section of Invest Ottawa’s website that includes information on how the city stacks up against other tech hubs in categories such as housing prices and recreation activities.

The site also includes a job board where local firms can post openings for free. Mr. Gibson says Invest Ottawa is hoping to have 150 companies signed up by the official launch on March 14.

“The response has been really, really enthusiastic,” he says.

The Kanata North BIA, which is unveiling phase two of its “Serious Tech Lives Here” campaign this week, will have a link to Invest Ottawa’s job board on its site. The two organizations are also running joint newspaper and web ad campaigns in major Canadian cities, including Toronto and Montreal.

“It’s really great timing in that we have some common objectives, obviously, from a talent attraction perspective,” says the BIA’s executive director, Jenna Sudds. “It’s more attention to the opportunities that are here, which hopefully will help drive some more talent in this direction. It makes a lot of sense from that perspective.”

Mr. Gibson says if the current campaign goes well, Invest Ottawa plans to launch an expanded version with more videos and a wider reach in the fall.