Montréal on the international stage

In anticipation of the Montréal: Alive with the International Strategic Forum, co-created by the Chamber, Montréal International and Investissement Québec, we wanted to paint a portrait of the metropolis on the international stage. What are Montréal’s strengths and weaknesses? How can we make our businesses more innovative, creative and competitive? We interviewed Christian Bernard, Chief Economist and Vice President of Marketing Communication at Montréal International.

CCMM - Montréal is now experiencing an important economic boom. This environment is good for attracting foreign investors and talent. How has Montréal changed when it comes to its ability to attract investors and talent over the past few years? What factors explain this change?

Christian Bernard: Montréal is smaller than cities like Paris or New York, so it needed to stand out! It relied on a sectoral approach on the international level by becoming a global leader in certain cutting-edge sectors like aerospace, video games, visual effects (special effects), artificial intelligence, life sciences and health technology.

In these sectors, Montréal became very attractive and was able to take advantage of the snowball effect; the Montréal ecosystem became large enough to attract big international players as well as foreign talent.

Three other factors also explain this change. First, the quality of our training system: we are recognized as the best student city in the world. Second, our tax structure provides important advantages when it comes to costs (a competitive business environment and various government aid measures, especially tax credits). Finally, because of its geographic location, Montréal is the first entryway into North America for European businesses, making access to markets easier. We also offer Americans access to the European market thanks to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Moreover, we have world-class infrastructure in the Montréal-Trudeau airport and the Port of Montréal, connecting these markets and improving the appeal of the metropolis.

CCMM – How can we not only maintain but increase the city’s appeal?

Christian Bernard: Today, all of the economic markers are in the green! Technological sectors are in full swing, we have the best talent and our city is open to the world. All of the conditions are in place to continue our economic momentum and attract record international investments.

However, to continue like this, we need to further increase Montréal’s talent pool in order to fill the many job positions available in our businesses. We need to continue acting on the international stage by intensifying our activities to attract, integrate and retain talent. We have a high retention potential, which we must continue to act upon, for example, by putting these talents in contact with Montréal employers. We also need to help people stay in school in order to better train and equip future generations.

What can we improve? Our economic reputation! Montréal is particularly known internationally for its touristic charm, cuisine and quality of life, but not enough for its economy and competitive business environment. Only some sectoral niches are the exception.

About 2,200 foreign subsidiaries call Montréal home, which represents 1% of Montréal’s business establishments, but contributes to 10% of employment and to 20% of the GDP. These subsidiaries are employers that usually offer higher salaries, use cutting-edge technology, invest more into R&D, have bigger productivity gains and are established in several of the world’s big markets.

CCMM – How can we explain Montréal International’s record figures in 2017?

Christian Bernard: Montréal International got record results in 2017, supporting more than $2 billion in foreign investments. The presence of a highly qualified labour force, the access to a market of nearly a billion consumers and the competitive cost structure explain most of the high appeal of the city. We can also include other features, such as the vitality of the region’s economy, the high concentration of global leaders, smooth and efficient immigration policies and the city’s exceptional quality of life.

CCMM – Which industry is the most appealing for investors? For foreign talents?

Christian Bernard: Out of the 48 projects we supported last year, 11 were in artificial intelligence! It was a good year for this field, as well as for the other sectors that we’re known for, which I mentioned earlier. These sectors saw a large growth on the global scale. These are the sectors of the future, in which Montréal stands out, and we are taking advantage of this competitive positioning to attract foreign investors and talent!

CCMM – How are the metropolis’s businesses attracting strategic foreign workers?

Christian Bernard: Firstly, by making concrete job offers, but also thanks to our immigration system. For example, 30 to 40% of workers in the visual effects industry are international workers. Over the past few years, we noticed that attracting foreign talent and investments are two sides of the same coin: one attracts the other. Thanks to low costs compared to other North American metropolises, Montréal’s fiscal approach promotes quality of life and contributes to attracting talent and investors.

Montréal is in an economic upswing that, according to attractiveness indicators, will be strengthened in the years to come. Want to know more about international trade and the importance of internationalization for Montréal?

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