As Ottawa’s tech sector grapples with post-pandemic uncertainty, KNBA CEO Amanda Gordon says her area is well-positioned to meet those challenges.
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As Ottawa’s tech sector grapples with post-pandemic uncertainty, including layoffs and a changing economy, Kanata North Business Association CEO Amanda Gordon says her area is well-positioned to meet those challenges. Gordon is the interim president and CEO of KNBA, which represents 540 companies, primarily in the tech sector, in what has become known as Canada’s largest technology park. According to Gordon, while the pandemic presented opportunities for Kanata-based tech companies, it wasn’t without its challenges. In 2020 and 2021, work-from-home mandates led to hundreds of job opportunities and a wave of new employees working for companies based in Kanata. “People could work from anywhere,” said Gordon. “We saw salaries go crazy. We saw the demand for talent accelerate.” But the rate of acceleration was unsustainable and, last year, tech companies across Canada laid off employees in droves. While Ottawa's downtown bore the brunt, with e-commerce giant Shopify laying off 20 per cent of workers, Kanata’s workforce also felt the impact. Gordon credits the volume and diversity of tech companies within the park for the area’s ability to retain talent. “We had a bit of balance,” said Gordon. “We have such a diverse set of technology companies, but often the skill set is similar. So our talent locally didn’t leave. They stayed and found new positions within the park.” KNBA is in the process of creating a new strategic plan, with attracting and retaining top tech talent as one of its main pillars. According to Gordon, Kanata’s talent pool is key to the growth of the park as it makes the area an attractive site for tech companies looking to expand in Canada. She said companies such as Nokia, which chose Kanata as the site for a new R&D hub, and Ericsson have been attracted to the area because of its talent. To continue that growth, Gordon said KNBA’s new strategic plan will focus on addressing issues that may keep workers away, including housing costs and transit. “We struggle with our young talent,” she said. “They come in on a co-op and live downtown, then have to take a commute that takes an hour to get here. That makes our young talent say they don’t know if they want to take another co-op here. So what we’re really trying to do is solve that transit issue so we can move our talent into the area faster and so they love the experience of living here, not just working here.” Affordability is also key as housing costs increase. “A townhome before — we used to show the numbers to people and they’d fall off their chair — because you could get a townhome for $400,000. Now these homes are $700- or $800,000,” she said. In the face of such challenges, Gordon said KNBA has been facilitating collaboration between local tech leaders to help create growth strategies for the park, as well as the city overall. “By pulling our leaders in the park together, we know that they support each other, they learn more about each other’s businesses, and they start to partner together. That really helps strengthen our tech side.” In the next few years, the park will become home to residential developments for the first time, allowing the area to come to life outside of the nine-to-five work hours, she added. “It’s really a commercial park, an industrial park in our past, and what’s going to happen is that transformation and modernization to a residential-mixed-with-commercial technology park,” said Gordon. “You’ll start to see people here past five o’clock. You’ll start to see a whole other ecosystem come to life after work. It’s something we’re really excited about.” KNBA will also look to attract more companies to the area. To Gordon, that means highlighting Ottawa’s assets, rather than focusing solely on its challenges. “We focus on the downtown core and how broken the downtown core is. But that actually hurts us as tech recruiters trying to showcase why you want to come and live, work, play, learn and innovate here. We want to recognize that downtowns are broken all over, but what are we doing about it?” she said. “We need Ottawa to be a showcase for all the good it has. We’re excited about all kinds of different projects that show that this is a city that’s moving forward. That helps us in our ability to show that this really is a region that’s building and it’s a beautiful place to bring your family.”