Biz confidence rising but city still has work to do, growth survey says

Business confidence is up in all sectors compared with a year ago, but most local entrepreneurs believe the city still isn't as innovative as it could be, according to the 2016 Ottawa Business Growth Survey.

June 1, 2016

Sponsored by the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Welch LLP, Cresa Ottawa, Gowling WLG and RBC, the latest edition of the annual survey found nearly eight in 10 of those questioned felt more confident in the local economy than they did six months ago.

But a whopping 83 per cent also said they believe Ottawa is not as innovative as it could be, a figure that spoke volumes to panellists who analyzed the results when the survey was unveiled Wednesday morning at the Shaw Centre.

“The results are sort of an indication of what I think is a problem that we need to solve, and that is that clearly people think we could be an innovative city, but they don’t think we are today,” said Code Cubitt, managing partner of Mistral Venture Partners.

Mr. Cubitt, who moved here three years ago after a successful career as a venture capitalist in cities such as Washington, D.C. and Palo Alto, Calif., said he believes Ottawa can hold its own with any of the world’s leading innovation hubs.

“There’s another city in Ontario that has this amazing brand for being innovative and entrepreneurial and successful,” he told the crowd of about 300.

“What I would say is they’ve got amazing sizzle, but when I visit there’s not a lot of steak. In Ottawa, it’s the opposite. We have a lot of steak; we have very little sizzle. What don’t brag about what we have. We’re very conservative; we tend to be very shy about talking about our successes.”

Bernie Ashe, CEO of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, said the city should focus on developing more incubators and accelerators to build on its already considerable strengths as a tech leader with a highly educated workforce and superb quality of life.

“Forget this rebranding Ottawa, guys,” Mr. Ashe said. “We’re fine. We’re way too hypersensitive. Ottawa’s a fantastic place. The guys across the street there at Shopify, they stayed in Ottawa because they liked the city. They really believe in this city as a great place to live.”

More than 650 people completed the online survey, which was conducted by local polling firm Abacus Data from April 11 to May 2 and asked business owners and executives for their views on a range of topics.

Like last year, respondents continued to be worried about a lack of skilled workers, particularly in the tech sector. Overall, 47 per cent of those surveyed singled out skilled workforce as their most important issue, ahead of attracting new business at 39 per cent and corporate taxes at 34 per cent.

Among businesses in the tech sector, more than two-thirds identified skilled workers as their No. 1 concern.

Mr. Cubitt said the National Capital Region faces stiff competition for top talent from other tech hubs such as Waterloo and Toronto and must work harder to ensure bright young minds choose Ottawa instead.

“We have great university institutions,” he said, adding many of their smartest graduates leave the city to work elsewhere. “How do we get them to stick around? Even potentially more importantly, how do we get others from other regions with new ideas to come to Ottawa?

“There’s no question we have top-rated engineering and science talent in the region. Getting them to not leave the region is what we should focus on.”

The results also showed widespread approval for an NHL arena, bars and restaurants at LeBreton Flats, a finding that did not surprise the panellists.

“Our future prosperity as a community really hinges in large part on what happens downtown,” said Cindy VanBuskirk, general manager of the Rideau Centre, noting her mall is in the midst of completing a $360-million expansion. “It’s a colossal opportunity.”

The full results of the 2016 Ottawa Business Growth Survey will be available online early next week at