Google Inc. unveiled its new Kitchener-Waterloo offices to the public, completing the transformation of what was once a tiny corporate outpost into perhaps the search engine's most important hub outside the United States.
In a gala that drew three MPs, countless engineers and all of Kitchener's city council, Google gave visitors a tour of its brand new 34,000-square-foot facility in Kitchener, Ont.'s Tannery district, just a few kilometres south of the University of Waterloo.
The new office, marked by Google's trademark use of primary colours and assortment of pinball and video game machines, represents an aggressive attempt to become a bigger player in the Kitchener-Waterloo tech ecosystem.
One of the hallmarks of the $30-million development project to which Google has relocated is its abundance of technology startups. Just one floor below Google's offices is the headquarters of Communitech, a not-for-profit organization that provides office space and other support to Waterloo-based startups.
Fuelled by the University of Waterloo, the Kitchener-Waterloo region has become one of the most prolific producers of young engineering talent in the world. Research In Motion Ltd. has long been the central corporate player in the area, thanks in large part to its co-founder's association with - and multiple donations to - the university.
"We have enormous respect for RIM … but there's room in this community for many different ways of innovating ," said Steve Woods, the head of the Kitchener office and the man charged with finding and arranging Google's corporate acquisitions in Canada. "There's more than enough talent to go around."
Indeed, Wednesday's event also included the announcement of multiple gifts from Google to the University of Waterloo. The biggest of those gifts is a grant worth almost $1-million to help academics in the school's mathematics and computer science departments study how to separate information from noise on social networks - something Google is interested in figuring out, as social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter continue to erode the company's traditional dominance in Web search.
Outside the company's global headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., few offices have proved as vital to Google as the Kitchener-Waterloo location. Initially, Google's presence in the region was minimal - the result of the acquisition of a mobile technology company in the area. As Stuart Feldman, Google's vice-president of engineering for the east coast put it, Google's first office had 22 employees and 20 chairs. Today, 170 engineers work at Google's new office, making it the largest in Canada.
In the past few years, the kind of mobile technology Google's Kitchener-Waterloo office specializes in has become perhaps the most important priority for Google's overall business strategy, as the search engine looks to cash in on the smart phone revolution with software such as the Android and Chrome operating systems for mobile devices.
In particular, Chrome, the project that started out as a Google-built browser but has since expanded to a browser-based operating system, has become almost entirely driven by the engineers in Kitchener-Waterloo. And as Google moves to sell its own Chrome-powered laptops, the software and the engineers building it have become more of a corporate priority.
As such, several Google positions that would have otherwise been reserved for offices in places like New York City have instead been allocated to the Kitchener-Waterloo region, as Google tries to pick up the best talent and startups in the region.
"All Google engineers are good," Mr. Feldman said. "But these ones are really good."