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Carl Viel
President & CEO -  Québec International

Quebec City: The Right Size for FDI

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Takeaways

  1. Quebec City is able to provide companies with a steady stream of talent out of its prestigious educational institutions, backed by support from organizations that assist companies with training initiatives.
  2. One of the key attractions of Quebec City is the quality of life that it offers, enticing talent from around the world to work and live there.
  3. Because of Quebec City’s manageable size, relationships among stakeholders are much smoother and more accessible, allowing for rapid project launching.

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Quebec City’s size provides it with a host of privileges that make it an attractive spot for foreign direct investment and talent. A good work-life balance, well-connected stakeholder networks, and easy access to support and government allow the city to advance in its priority sectors, making it a global leader in these industries.


What makes Canada an attractive destination for foreign direct investment? 

There are more than three reasons why people consider Canada as the place for foreign direct investment (FDI). The first element is the different free trade agreements (FTAs) that Canada has signed over the years, which have given us access not only to Europe and the US but also to Asia. The second key for me is the talent pool that Canada has to offer to an international company bringing their business into Canada. The third one, which may be seen as a give-in, is the quality of life that Canada offers. That attracts people to come and live here and raise their families. Another reason is also the different incentives that all three levels of government provide to companies to set up here. The last reason plays on two fronts: being open and openness. Number one, we are open for business, and number two, Canadians have an openness to welcome people from around the world. 

“Quebec City has seen an increase of over 20% in FDI and we are expecting the numbers to grow.” 

Our numbers have grown over the past three years. Quebec City has seen an increase of over 20% in FDI and we are expecting the numbers to grow. We are probably going to achieve the objectives we set for the year. A lot of it is going to come in information and communications technology (ICT). We are seeing a trend where a lot of investors are looking at other places to invest and Canada has a lot to offer.  

One of the key things that I did not bring up before is the cost of operating in Canada. Firstly, the difference with the Euro and US Dollars brings great benefits, and the salaries and wages of employees are lower than in the US or Europe. Those are some of the key elements that play a role in attracting foreign investment. 


What are Quebec’s competitive advantages for foreign direct investment and are they different from those of Canada?  

All of the advantages I identified for Canada are actually the same at the city level. As we discussed previously, the quality of life that Quebec City has to offer plays a key role in attracting and retaining the talent pool in the region. Another key advantage that Quebec and other cities have across the country is the quality of talent that comes out of our universities and colleges in Canada.  

Quebec’s size plays a key role in helping foster relationships among different stakeholders, thus speeding up project initiation. People can get access to different stakeholders to get their project off the ground and rapidly start it through the quality interactions we provide.  

“Quebec’s size plays a key role in helping foster relationships among different stakeholders, thus speeding up project initiation.” 

The last advantage is the quality of the economy. Quebec City has the most resilient economy in the country. We have seen 25 years of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and we are the fastest region in the country to come out of the COVID-19 crisis. We were able to rapidly create and recreate jobs through the pandemic crisis.   


What drives Quebec City’s economic resilience?  

Firstly, we are the capital of the province. Quebec has a strong base of people who work at the government level for both Quebec City and at the provincial level.  

Our second advantage is the different sectors that make up our economy. You just mentioned the life sciences, which is a noncyclical sector. Another key sector is finance and insurance, which are also key pillars of Quebec City.  

The third one is ICT, for which Quebec is really well known. People from around the world know CGI, which was founded in Quebec City and is one of the top five largest IT companies in the world. Another key sector of our economy is the agriculture and agri-food sector, which plays a key role in the region. All of those sectors are anti-cyclical. They have been around for a long time because people still need to eat, buy insurance, and acquire either pharmaceutical drugs or vaccines. 

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As an economic development agency, what are Québec International’s priorities?  

We are a one-shop office. Over the years, we have trained economic development agents who play all the different roles that a company or organization needs when they are looking to come here. You get access to all of the different services from the FDI component to help bring in your international talent to the country. We have a team that specializes in helping you go through the different hurdles of immigration.  

We also manage an incubator and accelerator, so if you are a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) that is looking to come to North America and run a test pilot, we can provide soft landing capabilities through our incubator. If a company wants to bring in one or two employees or test the North American market, they should try Canada first before going to the US. If you fail, you will not have invested millions of dollars.  

“If a company wants to bring in one or two employees or test the North American market, they should try Canada first before going to the US.” 

We have an export team as well, so if you want to expand to the US or to the rest of Canada, our employees will be there to help you operate in the rest of Canada. We have this expertise and capabilities, and we also manage clusters, so if you are coming to one of the key sectors you will be able to access specific talent.  

One of the key elements we see when international companies fail is that they did not know how to operate in a new country. As such, we help them understand the market and get access to the key stakeholders and decision-makers. That is an element that people should never underestimate. 


What are Quebec’s strengths in the life sciences compared to other Canadian jurisdictions?  

The first element that comes to mind is the tech capability that our researchers built over the years to transform innovation into companies and success. You mentioned Medicago—the technology for that came out of Laval University over 20 years ago through the capabilities their researchers had. That became the backbone that was given to the business community to take this idea and achieve global success. Quebec has the capability to transform innovation into successful companies. We have other key examples such as Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), which came out of Quebec City through the innovation of another top researcher. 

“Quebec has the capability to transform innovation into successful companies.” 

The second strength is the talent pool and our capability to attract key people. We train and retain them so they can move from creating a success into an international company. Those researchers and investors are moving from company to company saying, “If I did it once, I can do it another three times.” That is how we have been able to find success. We see this happening in other sectors such as ICT as well. 

The third strength is where we are in Quebec. We have fast access to the US market and repeat markets. Our innovations are successfully brought to market, gaining access to the US and Europe, which are larger markets than Canada. Faster access to reimbursement also plays a key role. 

The fourth element is the incentives that are there to help the businesses and innovators successfully bring their idea to market.  


What is the availability of talent in Quebec and what are you doing to attract more talent?  

In terms of trends, we are seeing a lot of people leaving larger cities such as Paris in favour of locations where they can buy houses and have rapid access to the outdoors. Quebec City is the right size for people who are looking for a work-life balance. You are going to be able to have access to your own home and all kinds of activities such as skiing, cycling, and more. Being the right size so that people can both live and work here is one of the key things that we are focusing on to attract international talent. 

“Quebec City is the right size for people who are looking for a work-life balance.” 

Secondly, we are able to help companies attract people from around the world looking for places to go. Other countries are making a bid to people who are working freelance to come and live in their communities since all that is needed is the ability to plug in your computer. But in the life sciences, a lot of those jobs are not just about having a computer. People in this sector work in manufacturing and developing vaccines, and people need to be physically onsite, which then goes back to our first priority about being a livable city.  

Third, the universities and colleges in Quebec are providing the fuel for companies to get access to great talent pools. Our number one university, Université Laval, will provide 11,000 future employees per year who want to work in the sector. This spans a broad spectrum including medical research, so companies are certainly getting access to quality talent that is well-trained.  

Canada also offers a lot of training capabilities and support for companies. When a company hires someone, they want to train them and get them to grow in their jobs so that they continue to develop. We are able to provide access to programs that help you train your people.  

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The Investment Attraction Series is Supported by

Carl Viel
President & CEO -  Québec International

Bio: Carl Viel is the President and CEO of Québec International, where he has served for nearly 13 years. As part of his role, he helps his organization promote the competitive environment of the Quebec City area attract foreign direct investment attraction to the city. Before this, he was the Director-General at Montréal InVivo and the Vice President of Life Sciences at Montréal International.  

 

Organization Profile: Québec International is the economic development agency in Quebec City. The agency contributes to the economic development in the Quebec City metropolitan region, working to enhance its international status. They foster business growth and development, support key clusters, and attract talent and investment to the region. They offer services such as trade and market development, technological entrepreneurship and funding, international recruitment, and more.