For six years from 2002 to 2008, John Tennant led what has become one of Canada’s most highly regarded regional economic development partnerships, Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc in Ontario’s Waterloo Region, an area just an hour west of Toronto, centred on the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. During John’s tenure, the public-private partnership model was established and given a sound footing by demonstrating value, results and vision that invited the support of municipalities, corporate partners, post-secondary educational institutions and the federal and provincial governments.
The Waterloo Region economy has consistently outperformed its peers and the national and Ontario economies. Economic diversity is the defining characteristic of the area, known globally as a successful high tech cluster while simultaneously being one of Canada’s most manufacturing-intensive communities and the headquarters location for significant insurance and financial operations. Representative of this, Canada’s Technology Triangle is home to BlackBerry™, a major Toyota plant, and a constellation of insurance companies, including the Canadian headquarters for Manulife and Sun Life Financial. In September 2008, Canadian Business Magazine ranked the Waterloo Region and Guelph as the best place to do business in English speaking Canada.
Key dimensions of the success of Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc are the economic development collaborations which John forged with the area’s outstanding post-secondary educational institutions – the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, nearby University of Guelph, and Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Few economic regions have established such close and profitable interaction among academic institutions, business and government.
Collaborative initiatives with counterpart economic development organizations also marked John’s time with Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc. He was, for example, a member of the Steering Committee that established the Toronto Region Research Alliance (TRRA). Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc also partnered with the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Ottawa Global Marketing/OCRI to form the Ontario Technology Corridor, a joint venture focused on the attraction of investment in information and communication technologies.
John’s leadership of Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc was recognized when it was named in 2008 as a Top 10 Canadian Economic Development Group by Site Selection Magazine. The organization and its partners were also the recipients of other awards and recognitions, including the City of Waterloo’s selection as the Intelligent Community of 2007, and a Top Five placing in its category in Foreign Direct Investment’s “North American Cities of the Future” (2007-08). Earlier, the Waterloo Region’s success garnered extensive attention when the Globe and Mail Report on Business cited it as “the model for Canada’s economic future.” Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc, together with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, earned the Canadian Urban Institute’s 2009 Global City Award for transforming the Region into a global centre of excellence.
The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce chose John as the recipient of its 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award for his role in attracting new business.
Economic development was a prominent aspect of John’s earlier career with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. John was widely recognized, for instance, as a leader among his peers in his outreach to senior corporate executives during three assignments in the United States. As a means to retain and attract investment, he established relationships with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to review their strategies and counsel how these could be profitably aligned with Canadian opportunities and realities.
John is intimately familiar with the issues that drive site location decisions, having been directly involved in securing investment commitments from companies of all sizes, including global players as Toyota, Google and McAfee. He possesses a network of private sector contacts in diverse fields and many regions of the world. His industry knowledge is extensive, though the automotive sector is an area of concentration.
Since establishing W2N2 Partnership, John has undertaken a number of economic development related assignments, sometimes in partnership with others. For Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, he prepared a comprehensive value proposition detailing Canada’s leadership in quantum information processing, drafted a comprehensive Global Automotive Sector Strategy for Canada, provided recommendations for enhanced initiatives regarding foreign investment retention (“aftercare”), and offered counsel on initiatives to connect US-based Canadian Trade Commissioners with Canada’s innovation sector. Two major studies for the Federal Southern Ontario Economic Development Agency (FedDev Ontario) focused on the structure of the Southern Ontario economy (including clusters and emerging sectors) and on Southern Ontario’s role and prospects in global trade. Work for the Health Technology Exchange (HTX) centered on strategy development in the delivery of the medical devices health technology commercialization program in Ontario, based on assessments from stakeholder roundtables, interviews and research. A scoping study for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities assessed the potential areas for closer federal-municipal collaboration in international economic development activities, such as international trade negotiations, foreign investment attraction and retention, international business and export development, and investment to create attractive global-class cities and communities.
At the 2012 International Economic Development Council Leadership Summit in San Antonio (TX), John facilitated a roundtable on “It’s a Global World”. At the same event in 2009 in Tempe (AZ), John spoke on the topic “Financing Partnerships within Your Region” which addressed unique funding sources and solutions to build and support regional partnerships.
John is a member of professional economic development associations, including the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO).