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Canada's Infrastructure and Innovation: Powering Economic Growth and Sustainability

Through its investment in infrastructure development, site-readiness initiatives, transformation of its power sector, and work-focused immigration policies, FDI in Canada continues to grow at a healthy pace.

Location Canada 2023
Canada, a nation known for its vast landscapes, cultural diversity, and strong economic standing, has emerged as a global leader in infrastructure development and innovation. In a recent global ranking by the Economist’s inaugural study, Infrastructure for Good, Canada secured the top spot among 30 countries, underscoring its commitment to social impact, governance, environmental sustainability, economic empowerment, and sustainable financing. The recognition is a testament to the nation’s dedication to economic development and pursuing a high quality of life for its citizens.

While traditional infrastructure investments in ports, airports, roads, and energy have garnered attention, Canada also recognizes the need to foster innovation and support startup investment. The country’s progressive immigration policies aim to attract skilled professionals from around the world, ensuring a steady influx of talent to fuel growth and prosperity. As Canada continues to strengthen its infrastructure and innovation landscape, it opens up new avenues for international collaboration and investment.

Infrastructure: Building a Foundation for Success
Canada’s commitment to infrastructure development is evident in its ambitious initiatives and strategic investments. In collaboration with provincial authorities and private companies, the federal government has embarked on transformative projects that support the trade of natural resources, growth in manufactured goods for domestic and export markets, and expansion of new or transformative industries to bolster the nation’s economy. Notably, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) focuses on green investments, clean power, public transit, trade and transportation, and broadband infrastructure, driving sustainable and rural economic development across the country.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) focuses on green investments, clean power, public transit, trade and transportation, and broadband infrastructure. Transport Canada’s National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF) is another vital component of Canada’s infrastructure landscape. With a budget of $4.6 billion, the NTCF has financed numerous infrastructure projects across the country, fostering more efficient marine, air, rail, and road transportation networks. This investment in 130 different projects has significantly benefited communities and trade gateways nationwide.

Like many countries, housing construction and affordability are critical areas for improvement in Canada and will likely require an all-of-government strategy to facilitate public and private home-building. With Investing in Canada Infrastructure, a popular federal program, expiring at the end of the fiscal year, leaders at the provincial, territorial, and municipal levels are encouraging the federal government to renew the program and place transportation and housing at the top of the priority list.

Other challenges remain, too, as reflected in Canada’s ranking on the Global Innovation Index, where it currently stands 15th out of 132 countries. The nation acknowledges the need to further nurture its innovation ecosystem and has taken proactive measures to support startups and attract entrepreneurial talent. By combining infrastructure development with innovative initiatives, Canada strives to create an environment conducive to economic growth and sustainability.

Site-Readiness Initiatives: Enabling Economic Expansion
To fully leverage the economic benefits of public infrastructure investments, Canadian jurisdictions are placing a stronger emphasis on site readiness. The availability of industrial sites that are under contractual control and have been vetted through a rigorous due diligence effort is crucial for attracting companies looking to establish factories and warehouses, contributing to job creation and economic prosperity. Communities across the country are proactively engaged in efforts to identify and advance the readiness of high-quality industrial properties, ensuring Canada remains an attractive destination for businesses.

The province of Ontario, for instance, launched the Job Site Challenge two years ago, aiming to identify the most market-ready mega sites in the province. The initiative has already yielded success, as demonstrated by the upcoming establishment of Umicore’s US$1.2 billion manufacturing facility for cathode active battery materials (CAM) and their precursor materials (pCAM), and Volkswagen’s intentions to build its first E.V. battery plant (gigafactory) outside of Europe with an initial US$5.6 billion investment. Ontario continues to expand the search for new industrial land parcels with long-term potential to become large industrial sites. Other Canadian communities, including the city of metropolitan Edmonton, Alberta, are also actively engaged in identifying and improving the development-readiness of their industrial land to fuel further economic growth and development.

By prioritizing site-readiness initiatives, Canada ensures that its infrastructure investments translate into tangible economic benefits. These efforts contribute to a thriving business ecosystem, attracting both domestic and international companies seeking expansion opportunities.

Power Sector Transformation: Meeting the Challenges of a Changing Energy Landscape
Canada, with its abundance of natural resources, has long relied on its energy sector to drive economic growth. However, the nation is not immune to the challenges posed by global energy transition and decarbonization efforts. As countries worldwide shift toward renewable energy sources, Canada recognizes the need to adapt its power sector to meet evolving demands and environmental targets.

To fully leverage the economic benefits of public infrastructure investments, Canadian jurisdictions are placing a stronger emphasis on site readiness. Quebec, known for its hydroelectric and low-cost renewable energy, has experienced a surge in demand, particularly in data centers, battery supply chain companies, and electric vehicle adoption. To ensure a lasting and stable energy supply, Quebec’s government has pledged to be more selective in approving power-intensive projects, carefully balancing economic development objectives with environmental considerations. The commitment to maintaining a carbon-free energy mix might include exploring new nuclear power options.

On the other hand, Ontario has a long history of embracing large-scale nuclear power generation, building upon its existing infrastructure with recent reactor refurbishments. The province has also initiated pre-development work for a new significant nuclear project, aiming to add 4,800 MW of power to the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station. Additionally, Ontario has launched the country’s first grid-scale Small Modular Reactor (SMR) program with four planned facilities. Supported by the Canada Infrastructure Bank, SMRs are also expected to be installed in other provinces, including Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Alberta. Furthermore, Alberta, renowned for its oil and gas industry, is pursuing renewable energy projects to assist with the decarbonization of its energy development.

By embracing power-sector transformation and investing in diverse energy sources, Canada strives to balance economic growth with environmental stewardship, laying the foundation for a more sustainable future.

Expand FDI into Canada
Close FDI into Canada
FDI into Canada continued its strong trajectory in 2022, outspacing the 10-year average by 13.6%
Innovation: Nurturing a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Technological Advancement
While Canada has made significant strides in infrastructure development, its reputation for innovation is mixed and has room for improvement. As such, the country has taken significant steps to foster an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and technological advancements. Government-funded programs, such as the federal Protein Industries Cluster and the Province of Saskatchewan’s Agtech Growth Fund, provide crucial support to startups and drive innovation in sectors like agriculture.

Canada recognizes the need to adapt its power sector to meet evolving demands and environmental targets. One recent and notable success story is Precision AI, a Saskatchewan-based startup that developed an AI-powered application to deploy pesticides accurately with drones. By leveraging artificial intelligence, Precision AI aims to reduce herbicide use by up to 95 percent while maintaining crop yields, benefiting both farmers and the environment. The innovative AI technology showcases the potential of public-funded programs in catalyzing change and driving advancements in agriculture, not only within Canada but also beyond its borders.

Complementary to this private-sector innovation, Transport Canada has also taken a proactive and inventive stance by submitting Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) drone rules for approval in Canadian air space. Among the first of their kind globally, the drone regulations will allow low-risk operations beyond the visual line of sight. Such policy changes support the growth of the unmanned aviation sector and enable groundbreaking applications like AI-powered wildfire risk detection around critical infrastructure, which was developed by Spexi Geospatial in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Workforce Talent
Canada’s commitment to fostering innovation extends to its immigration policies. The proportion of immigrants in Canada — 23 percent of the total population — is the highest among G7 countries, according to Statistics Canada. Still, recognizing the importance of attracting global talent, the country has introduced three more measures to address its skills shortage by further opening its borders to skilled immigrants.

A newly launched Digital Nomad Strategy allows professionals to work remotely in Canada for up to six months, providing opportunities to explore employment options and potentially establish permanent residency. The Innovation Stream offers highly skilled individuals the opportunity to work in Canada for up to five years, supporting companies that contribute to the country’s innovation goals or operate in high-demand occupations. Additionally, a new H-1B Open Work Permit Program has been established to enable 10,000 H-1B visa holders already vetted by the U.S. immigration system to move to Canada, benefiting both the individuals and the Canadian economy. The time and place when Canada announced these initiatives was on-point: the renowned Collision Conference, a global tech summit hosted in Toronto. The conference used to be held in the U.S. before moving to Toronto, citing, among other things, visa restrictions in the U.S. affecting international speakers and attendees.

Recognizing the importance of attracting global talent, the country has introduced three more measures to address its skills shortage by further opening its borders to skilled immigrants. Canada’s immigration initiatives are part of a larger, multi-year, multi-program federal effort to accelerate work-focused immigration, especially through an “Express Entry” program for skilled and experienced workers. In many cases, over the last several years (preceding and following the pandemic), employers and employees have received approvals within 3-4 weeks to allow sought-after international talent into Canada. The federal government is not alone in its effort to address labor availability challenges in the country. At the provincial level, Invest Quebec, for example, has created a new workforce-dedicated team to better assist companies — already established or considering expanding in the province — with financial aid, training and upskilling programs, and recruitment solutions. Other provinces are similarly furthering and improving their talent growth efforts with apprenticeships, co-ops, and other training initiatives.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) to Canada continued to grow at a healthy pace in 2022, surpassing a 10-year average by nearly 14 percent, despite declining from a record-setting 2021. Moreover, Canada was the seventh leading global destination for FDI last year. Despite domestic challenges, Canada’s commitment to infrastructure development, innovation, and talent development and attraction serves as a blueprint for sustained economic growth and environmental stewardship.

Gregg Wassmansdorf is a senior managing director in Newmark's Global Corporate Services practice,where he shares responsibility for platform development, sales, engagement management, and client service delivery for the company’s consulting practice.
As a commercial real estate (CRE) outsourcing advisor, Gregg helps mid-sized and large organizations evaluate the best means to access and implement service solutions for their global facilities. He facilitates engagements for strategic consulting, CRE & facilities management (FM) technology and data management, account and transaction management, workplace strategies and implementation, facilities services, and project management.
In his management consulting capacity, Gregg works with his corporate clients to address challenges in global portfolio strategy, location strategy and site selection, supply chain planning, economic incentives, workplace strategy, property transaction execution, ESG initiatives, and capital project implementation. His experience spans many asset types including head offices, shared services and call centers, data centers, manufacturing plants, and distribution facilities.
Gregg is a trusted advisor to corporate clients in many industry sectors, both public and private, and he takes pride in his ability to help clients conceive and implement logical and defensible real estate solutions, scenario plan, reduce decision-risk, and successfully execute their strategies.
Gregg’s advisory work also supports senior and lower levels of government with economic development strategy, investment attraction initiatives, and regional and community competitiveness assessments. He is regularly hired by investment promotion and economic development agencies for his expert opinions.
Gabriel Dion is a director in the global consulting and strategy solutions practice of Newmark’s Global Corporate Services division. Since joining Newmark in 2019, he has performed incentives analysis in more than 25 U.S. states and five countries for companies in the financial services, medical devices, and advanced manufacturing sectors. Gabriel is also part of Newmark’s core team providing economic development strategy consulting services to states, counties, cities, and chambers of commerce across North America. Gabriel is based in San Francisco, and originally from Quebec City (Canada) where he started his career in economic development. Gillian Apps is a Portfolio Strategist with Newmark’s Global Strategy consulting practice within the firm’s Global Corporate Services (GCS) division. Gillian consults on client-facing assignments for workplace and real estate portfolio strategy development. She helps clients to pinpoint opportunities to improve real estate portfolio and performance metrics by identifying assets that are currently not aligned to business goals. She continually seeks out portfolio strategy innovation and best practices to bring forward new ideas and thinking to improve processes and operations.
Gillian joined Newmark in early 2021 from Bridgewater Associates, a premier asset management firm, where she was chief of staff for the head of Real Estate. She was a member of the Covid-19 strategic response team tasked to enable Bridgewater Associates to sustain operations and business critical functions, without compromising health or safety.

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