The city of Brampton is dedicated to making innovation and technology central to its economy – and has the municipal government department to prove it.
Since August 2017, the city’s innovation and tech sector lead, Devin Ramphal, has pursued three goals on his hometown’s behalf: building an ecosystem akin to Silicon Valley that attracts technology companies; developing a state of organic growth for Brampton’s existing innovation and tech sector; and creating a world-reknowned reputation for the city “where innovation and technology is not just an industry, but a way of life.”
“As soon as you people decide they want to start a technology company they automatically think of Silicon Valley and want to run there,” Ramphal tells ITBusiness.ca. “That’s my goal for Brampton.”
A mechanical engineer by training, veteran of Brampton’s automotive and manufacturing industries, including stints with Honda, General Motors, and Velcro (whose Canadian headquarters are based in the city), and founder of consulting startup Dram Innovations, Ramphal is the perfect tech industry poster child for the city, which likes to position itself as the second-largest innovation and communication cluster in North America and promote its central location in the innovation hub known as the Toronto-Waterloo corridor.
“I’ve lived in Brampton since I was one year old,” Ramphal says. “I love the city. I think there’s huge potential here.”
How the city sold itself to Amazon
The city’s recent bid, developed in collaboration with neighbouring Mississauga and Toronto, for Amazon’s second global headquarters, provides a snapshot of what Ramphal believes makes Brampton a great location for tech companies such as the online retail giant.
In their portion of the bid, Brampton’s leaders provided five reasons their city was an ideal location for Amazon in particular: a high-quality talent pipeline that receives approximately 14,000 new residents per year; an “exceptional” proposed site 15 minutes from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport; what they called Canada’s “fastest-growing” transit system; its youth and diversity, with a population spanning 209 cultures and an average age of 36.5 years; and amenities including more than 200 restaurants, 25 grocery stores, eight recreation centres, two libraries, and more than 3,000 businesses within five kilometres of their proposed site.
“We were living and breathing Amazon for almost a month,” Ramphal says. “But we put together what we feel is a really strong bid that shows how forward-thinking Brampton is. ”
The bid, which Ramphal contributed to and admits absorbed much of his team’s September and October, is also emblematic of the sort of research and foundational projects that have dominated his young department’s time throughout the past year.
“Our goal is to develop the city through innovation and technology, whether that means bringing more technology companies into the city, or making the city itself a more innovative place,” he says.
A multi-disciplinary approach
It’s worth noting that innovation and technology one of four sectors that Brampton’s economic development department is focusing on, with advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, and food and beverage, also recently receiving their own department and sector lead.
And while the concepts of innovation and technology themselves are related, Ramphal says, his team treats them as separate goals.
“On the innovation side, we’re focused on creating a tech-friendly ecosystem within the city, which so far includes bringing a new STEM facility from Ryerson University and Sheridan College into the city,” he says. “On the technology side we’re focused on attracting new businesses to Brampton and helping them grow any way we can.”
Another goal for Ramphal department has been reaching out to the tech companies which already call Brampton home and collaborating with them on expanding their operations or contributing to the city’s efforts to attract new companies to the region.
“We have some big ones,” Ramphal says. “For example, I think Rogers employs over 6000 people in the city. We have MDA, which built the Canadarm right here in Brampton. So we have a lot of success stories, and my role is to uncover the old ones, help build new ones, and bind everything together.”
Ramphal notes that while his department’s goals might be relatively new, Brampton itself – as illustrated by its Amazon bid – is already in an excellent position to begin pursuing them.
“We’re not world-reknowned yet, but we will be, and I’m working towards that as hard as I can, any way I can,” he says. “The potential is definitely there.”