In Waterloo, Ontario, where struggling BlackBerry is still referred to as a “tech giant” by newspapers, the outlook for 4,500 laid-off workers may not be as grim as outsiders believe.
The likes of Apple and Intel are lining up to meet with former BlackBerry engineers and programmers. Meanwhile, others — including Google’s Motorola Mobility unit and e-payments company Square — are opening offices near BlackBerry headquarters. In addition, growing Canadian companies like Shopify have already begun snatching up BlackBerry talent, according to a report in the Financial Post. The newspaper described Motorola as ready to “go on a hiring spree,” though the company didn’t disclose specific hiring plans for the new office.
While BlackBerry has been circling the drain, the region it calls home has grown a tech economy that development officials hope can weather whatever happens to the former Research in Motion. According to data compiled by Communitech, a local startup incubator, “in 1997, there were roughly 50 technology companies in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, which employed more than 1,800 people creating about $100-million in revenue.” Today, some 1,000 tech companies are located in the area. They employ about 30,000 people and generate more than $30 billion in revenue.
While the local tech sector may be unable to find 4,500 new jobs overnight, Google could become a significant new employer. Its Motorola smartphone unit has announced plans for a new facility located a 10-minute drive from BlackBerry headquarters. Google itself will begin supporting Communitech to encourage local entrepreneurs, and already has its own office a short walk from Motorola’s new digs.
Not everyone wants to set up in Waterloo. Some out-of-town companies are more interested in exporting talent than they are in opening new offices there. Shortly after the layoffs were announced, both Apple and Intel held job fairs in the area, presumably aimed at enticing former BlackBerry engineers to leave the region for sunny California, at least in Apple’s case.
As for the local mood, a Financial Post headline may sum it up best:
‘There’s life after BlackBerry’: Startups’ need for talent may soften landing for laid-off workers.