The links between foreign investment, innovation and digital infrastructure

Having the right digital infrastructure is a key ingredient to helping cities attract foreign investment.


Collaborating for Investment Attraction in the Toronto Region, a new report by two University of Toronto researchers, explains how multinational corporations expanding their operations evaluate potential new sites. Through quantitative and qualitative analysis that included several case studies of multinationals operating in the GTA, the researchers determined these firms value the Toronto region’s ecosystem of businesses, research and development capacity, and ready access to talent, all of which can help them strengthen their businesses. The study also found these enterprises typically develop connections across the region through partnerships with post-secondary schools and research institutions.


What underpins all of this investment activity and helps facilitate the resulting economic progress are advanced digital services. In Ontario, ORION’s ultra high-speed fibre optic network enables regions, businesses and researchers to work together to discover and develop bright ideas.


“According to the firms we interviewed, research capacity is a critical reason firms come to Ontario generally and Toronto specifically, and all of these organizations—universities, colleges, national research centres and public labs—run on digital infrastructure,” says report co-author David A. Wolfe, co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs and co-editor of Growing Urban Economies: Innovation, Creativity, and Governance in Canadian City-Regions. “We need organizations like ORION to make sure the infrastructure is available to us when we need it, so we can do our work.”


Offering a network 1,000 times faster than commercial internet, and a range of robust cloud-based digital tools, ORION connects researchers and educators to high-performance computing through organizations like Compute Ontario’s consortia and the Southern Ontario Smart Computing and Innovation Platform, which allows them to efficiently analyze large data sets. These sophisticated technology solutions play an essential role in supporting foreign investment projects, which contribute to economic prosperity through activities such as employment creation, tax revenue and the purchase of business supplies and services.


These academic-industry-government research collaborations help stimulate innovation in a variety of ways. In their report, Wolfe and co-author Richard DiFrancesco of U of T St. George Campus’ Geography & Planning Department note how Cisco’s Toronto Innovation Centre unites researchers, industry collaborators, startups and governments to develop digital solutions for urban cities, health care and financial services. GM Canada, meanwhile, just opened a state-of-the-art Canadian Technical Centre in Markham that will conduct leading-edge research into driverless cars, vehicle infotainment and automotive safety.


David Wolfe, professor, University of Toronto.

David Wolfe, professor, University of Toronto. Photo by Dave Chan.

The role of digital infrastructure in facilitating collaborative R&D initiatives between researchers, academics and industry, and consequently promoting innovation in Ontario, will be explored at our upcoming annual conference, THINK. Under the theme of Innovation Ecosystem, we will look at how advanced digital infrastructure connects scientists, educators, entrepreneurs and others to solve society’s biggest problems. David Wolfe will participate in our keynote panel discussion about creating a successful innovation ecosystem. THINK will take place May 1-2 at the MaRS Discovery District – stay current on our conference updates, and register by March 26 to take advantage of our early bird price.