Posted by Liana Hovakimyan |

How Toronto Global Serves International Businesses During COVID-19

How We Help U.S. Companies Expand to the Toronto Region

I love my job. I am a part of Toronto Global’s Investment Attraction team and I work with companies headquartered in the USA West supporting their expansion to the Toronto Region. One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity it affords me to meet with businesses in market. Several times a year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that were imposed as a result, I would board a plane from Pearson International Airport, North America’s second-largest airport, and make my way to Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities in the USA West, where I would meet with growing companies and do my best to convince them that the Toronto Region is the right place for their business growth and expansion.

Of course, I would get a thrill out of the plane taking off and landing five hours later on the West Coast. Travelling allowed me to discover new cities (or new streets in cities I’ve roamed around in before), and most importantly I would meet with exceptionally smart people and forge long-lasting relationships. ​Along with the innovative and groundbreaking companies we work with across the Toronto Region, the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that I would witness in-market was inspiring. This was truly the best part. The brightest minds that work on engineering red blood cells in a lab; use artificial intelligence to develop precision drugs or find the right patients for clinical trials; teach cars to drive; create robots for elder care; manufacture meat-less burgers or dairy-free cheese; dig underground tunnels to relieve traffic congestion – I would get to speak to them all. The innovation I would see and experience myself seemed endless.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it also comes with many hours of effort before, during and after each trip. The majority of my colleagues would agree that, while meeting clients face-to-face is the most rewarding part of our job, it is also the most demanding.


SADA Systems hosting Mayor John Tory and Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson in Los Angeles

For example, many of the projects I work on are incredibly complex. You see, in order to extend relevant help, we need to understand our clients’ business and product offering. When I would run between five to eight meetings a day for five days straight and get peppered with industry-specific jargon, like “flora-made dairy protein,” or “silicon proven customizable PLLs and DLLs,” or “wafer-scale engine,” or “chemicals in sandy and muck soil for the best tasting carrots,” it’s easy to get lost. So, I take ample notes, and always welcome the opportunity to learn something new.

My next favourite part is hosting my clients in the region for their “due diligence” visits. When the founders or executive decision makers of our client firms travelled to Toronto, our team was there to support every step of the way. We put together a tailor-made program of meetings designed to provide them with all the information they need to know about expanding to the Toronto Region. Many meetings happened in the boardroom of our lively downtown office, but I also liked buckling up and driving my clients around the 24 cities and towns of the Toronto Region, having great conversations about our regional business offering along the way. Did you know that the region is the largest metro area in Canada with over 7 million in population and generating 20 percent of the country’s GDP? Our clients may have heard about Toronto and may have visited before, but we always did our best to make sure the visit with us stood out. They would get the breadth of information on their respective industry from the experts; they’d meet with local movers and shakers, industry organizations, universities and colleges, government, and many other players. The vast size of the Toronto Region and the innovation happening here makes an easy first impression, and I would always get a kick out of it when I’d hear, “Oh, wow, we had no idea…”


Jollibee's Restaurant Opening in Toronto 

Investing in The Toronto Region During COVID-19  

Since the inception of Toronto Global in February 2017, our regular work included all that and more. Three years later, in February 2020, I returned from my trip to San Francisco and was preparing for my first trip to Arizona. I had meetings confirmed with companies in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe and was looking forward to my trip to begin building up a market I had never been to before.

But my trip planned for mid-March was abruptly cancelled when the COVID-19 pandemic became very serious. Since mid-March, Toronto Global has pivoted to working remotely using today’s conducive technology. 

You may ask me if my job has changed significantly without the ability to travel? Not necessarily so.

How We Can Help Businesses Expand During COVID-19

A client of mine from San Francisco wanted to understand the size of the region and the clustering of life science companies, in addition to the commute patterns to various employment zones. Easy. We have a mapping tool and can show all this via Zoom screenshare. Another client, a software company, wanted to speak with other companies from the Bay Area that have expanded operations here. We’ve made relevant connections and set up the conversations to share insights. A third one said it’s important for them to hire women engineers – and we connected them with a recruiter focused on diversity hiring and shared statistics on women engineers in this region compared to other locations. A fourth client company reached out because they have a percentage of their employees on H1B work visas, which are now subject to many restrictions by the U.S. government. We connected this company to an immigration lawyer to strategize on how to transfer these employees to Canada and grow from here. Another client wanted to compare seven locations in Canada, the U.S., and Europe for its next expansion, and needed to understand the related costs. Again, we used a Zoom screenshare so the client could pick and choose 90 various job positions from Salary Assessor, a tool we use to generate average salaries across multiple locations.

As a result of these calls, a number of our post-COVID clients are proceeding with setting up their Canadian subsidiaries while strategizing how best to approach remote hiring. And the icing on the cake? At Toronto Global, we also go out of our way to do the little things that make our clients feel welcome and supported. For instance, a client company from San Francisco recently hired its Canadian Head of Engineering and decided to gift him with a rare scotch for Canada Day, which was on July 1st. They tried to arrange the delivery to his place but could not find any delivery company willing to do this. Since we are a full-service agency, I volunteered to drive to the liquor store, pick up the special gift and drive it to the residence of my client’s new hire. It took me some time to cover the vast territory from Toronto West to the store in Toronto East, then to the town of Aurora in the northern part of the region and back. He was very happy with the attention he got from his parent company, and I was happy to contribute to a wide smile and look of surprise on his face. It’s these little things that also make my job most rewarding.

Human interaction is one critical component of our job and cannot be replaced with any technology. The trust we build with our clients is due to the effort, time and resources we put in to reaching out to them via a cold email (at times very persistently), confirming their interest, arranging a flight, and being on their turf for an in-person meeting. The connection we forge when we are sitting face-to-face, making eye contact, asking relevant questions, and sharing coffee in a Starbucks around the corner from their offices is incomparable to a Zoom or Teams meeting. The experience our clients get from driving with us to various towns and cities in the Toronto Region to meet with local companies, government, and academia cannot be replaced by any technology. But in unprecedented times, we must be agile and think outside the box.

Toronto Region Has All the Fundamentals to Grow Your Business

Our work does not stop with COVID-19. It’s just taken a different turn, as many things have become different globally as we adjust to a new way of life. But the fundamentals of the Toronto Region are the same: we are big, we are stable, we are innovative, we are friendly. We are the largest metro area in Canada, and the fourth largest in North America. We are the business centre of Canada, home to 40 percent of Canadian companies’ headquarters. Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have a location in this region. We have the fourth largest and fastest growing tech talent pool in North America, producing 25,000 STEM grads in our colleges and universities each year. We are the most diverse city in the world, with over 170 languages spoken and with 50 percent of our population being born outside of Canada. Our government’s friendly immigration policies make it easy for our businesses to hire globally and transfer skilled workers here. Imagine having the whole world to hire from – you can do this in Canada and in the Toronto Region.


Coursera's Announcement of Toronto Office at Collision Conference 2019

We are all in these unchartered waters of a global pandemic together. But, as soon as COVID-19 is behind us, we would welcome you to come and visit us in the Toronto Region. We at Toronto Global will be happy to show you around. And in the meantime, let’s “Zoom!”

About Author

Liana Hovakimyan

Liana HovakimyanDirector, Investment Attraction, North America

Liana works with U.S.-based companies interested in expanding their operations to the Toronto Region. 

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