Toronto and its surrounding municipalities are doubling down on efforts to entice foreign investment, with a new agency designed to pull new business and money into the region.
The cities and regions of Greater Toronto will join the federal and Ontario governments in spending $19.5-million over three years to launch the agency, which is to be called Toronto Global. It will be chaired by former Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon, with former airport executive Toby Lennox as chief executive officer.
The initiative seizes a moment where global trade and investment patterns are shrouded in uncertainty because of the protectionist agenda of Donald Trump. The new U.S. President has said his administration will renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement and has used the threat of border taxes to discourage manufacturers that sell into the U.S. market from making products outside the United States.
Despite those threats, the new Toronto agency aims to lure investors into Canada's biggest metropolitan area to boost economic growth and attract jobs across multiple sectors such as advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences and financial services.
Toronto's census metropolitan area accounted for 18.6 per cent of Canada's GDP at basic prices in 2013, the latest year for which Statistics Canada has such data. Mr. Cohon described Toronto Global as a "concierge service" to both advise interested companies and attract new partners to set up business in the region.
Toronto Global has been in the works for about 18 months and is the direct successor of two previous initiatives, Invest Toronto and the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance, each of which had a mandate to get foreign investment.
"People didn't really know where to turn before – now you've got one place to call upon," Mr. Cohon said in an interview.
The funding comes from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Ontario's Ministry of Economic Development and Growth and municipal governments across the GTA. The agency hopes to encourage the region's existing business leaders to use the contacts they make working abroad to uncover opportunities and make introductions.
Toronto Global will then step in with a team of sector-specific experts to follow up and encourage local investment. "It's leveraging and building," Mr. Lennox said.
To close a deal in Japan, for instance, they might take along Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, whose city claims to be home to about 100 Japanese businesses.
Mr. Trump's protectionist agenda and his harsh moves on immigration, which include a ban on entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, have spooked many business executives, particularly in the technology sector, which sometimes relies on foreign workers to fill skilled positions. The Toronto Global leadership say they're not taking advantage of U.S. uncertainty – noting that the agency was long in the works – and would prefer to let the GTA's business case stand for itself.
That said, the short-term context might help, Mr. Cohon said. "I think if you're a country that says you're open for business, and a city that says you're open for business, naturally people on a global stage will gravitate to that."
Foreign investment in Canada is actually the reason Mr. Cohon first arrived here. In 1968, his father, George Cohon, opened the first McDonald's in Ontario, in the city of London.