Outgoing Invest Ottawa CEO Lazenby touts capital as Canada's 'hottest tech sector'

After five years as the capital’s “VP of sales,” Bruce Lazenby stayed true to form in his last major public appearance as head of Invest Ottawa on Thursday, touting the city’s strengths and urging companies to continue to fortify what he called “probably the hottest tech sector in the country right now.”

Mr. Lazenby told the crowd at city hall that Ottawa is the most business-friendly place in Canada, pointing to its burgeoning tech sector, abundance of universities and research facilities and the emergence of new hubs such as the Innovation Centre scheduled to open this fall at Bayview Yards.

“The Innovation Centre is going to be a really exciting thing for Ottawa,” he said after a 25-minute presentation at the Mayor’s Breakfast event. “Bit by bit, we’re seeing politicians at Queen’s Park understand that Ottawa is a major player.”

Mr. Lazenby, who was appointed CEO of the agency then known as the Ottawa Centre for Regional Innovation in the fall of 2011, said he’s seen a lot of changes for the better in the local business climate since then.

The former high-tech executive credited city council for making “key investments” in agencies and infrastructure that have helped to make Ottawa more attractive to investors and budding entrepreneurs.

“They understand that economic growth does not happen randomly,” said Mr. Lazenby, whose last day on the job is June 30. “You’ve got to be focused on economic development, and this council has done that.”

Mr. Lazenby said initiatives such as the Innovation Pilot Program announced on Wednesday will help Ottawa stay on the cutting edge of emerging technologies. Under the program, city staff will help test eight new products from selected companies over the next year.

“Those kinds of things are real opportunities,” he said.

Invest Ottawa has given no timetable for naming Mr. Lazenby's successor. The outgoing CEO said the agency's next leader must be a strong advocate for Ottawa and promote the region aggressively around the world.

“My successor is going to have to be the kind of person who understands that we’ve got this great asset here, but if it’s unknown, it’s undervalued,” Mr. Lazenby said.

Attracting new talent to the city will also be a top priority for the agency in the years ahead, he said, noting Ottawa faces stiff competition for highly skilled workers from other tech centres such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Waterloo.

“When you’ve got an unemployment rate of one per cent (in the ICT sector) and everybody’s hiring, it’s a massive opportunity,” Mr. Lazenby said.

Mayor Jim Watson praised the outgoing CEO for his leadership, telling the crowd Invest Ottawa has created 4,700 jobs in the capital while helping to incubate more than 1,000 startups that have attracted in excess of $300 million in investment under Mr. Lazenby’s watch.

“He really is the father of Invest Ottawa,” Mr. Watson said.

As for what’s next, Mr. Lazenby said he plans to indulge his passion for golf over the next couple of months but is far from ready to put his feet up for good.

“I’m definitely not retiring,” he told reporters. “I’m having some wonderful conversations, some I never expected to have. I hope to be back in the fall in some pretty important roles and continuing in the city-building vein.”

The Mayor's Breakfast is a regular presentation of OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.