Facebook parent company Meta is launching a new engineering hub in Toronto as part of its ambitions to build out the “metaverse.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the new hub alongside Meta executives in Toronto on Tuesday afternoon.
He said the new hub will create 2,500 “high-paying” jobs over the next five years.
The majority of roles will be engineering-focused and will consist of both in-office and remote work options, the company said.
The hiring spree is meant to advance Meta’s plans to build a metaverse, an emerging and interactive world making use of virtual and augmented reality to help people connect, enjoy entertainment and conduct business.
The company chose Canada because of its “deep talent pool” and “vibrant tech ecosystem,” said Rachel Curran, Meta’s public policy manager, according to The Canadian Press.
“Ontario, Toronto in particular, is becoming a real centre of the innovation economy and the tech economy and so we’re jumping on board,” she said.
Indeed, Toronto was highlighted as rivalling up-and-coming American tech hubs such as Miami and Austin, Texas, in a recent head-turning New York Times piece. That article cited data from real estate firm CBRE, which said Toronto’s technology ecosystem ranked behind only New York and Silicon Valley in North America in terms of the number of tech workers.
“I’m not surprised, because Toronto has always been a really great sort of hotpot for great talent — from biotech to software engineering, machine learning,” said Luan Yu, CEO of Scarborough-based Genecis Bioindustries, in a recent interview with Global News.
The 2021 CBRE report on tech ecosystems in North America highlighted Toronto as having the biggest “brain gain” among other cities in the U.S. and Canada competing for top talent. The report calculates a market’s relative brain gain or drain as the difference between the number of degrees in tech-related fields granted in the city in a five-year span and the total new tech jobs added over the same time.
The new hires announced Tuesday — which the company says it has already started recruiting — will join Meta’s first Canadian engineering teams working on WhatsApp, Messenger and Remote Presence, which build synchronous communications products allowing users to complete tasks like watching videos together.
Other hires will join the company’s artificial intelligence research departments and Reality Labs, which have worked on the Oculus and Portal devices.
Many will be housed in a new downtown Toronto space larger than Meta’s current home in the MaRS Discovery District, Curran said. She declined to share further details on the forthcoming office.
She did, however, note that many new hires will work remotely, helping the company attract even more talent.
“Canadians have in the past had to move to the U.S. to work for big tech companies frequently, so now we’re saying ‘No, you can stay in Canada,”‘ said Curran.
Retaining top talent or making competition tighter?
Ford also touted the announcement as critical to retaining talent born and educated in Ontario.
“Our tech talent no longer has to look elsewhere to pursue their careers,” he said Tuesday.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, startups and homegrown businesses watched foreign giants Microsoft, DoorDash, Amazon, Google, Wayfair, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix reveal Canadian hiring plans. Many intended to place workers in technical or engineering roles and some even said they would bolster hiring with new offices.
Many smaller, local companies feared they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the higher salaries and bigger names these companies offer. To draw in staff, they turned to flashy benefits like unlimited vacation, Fridays off and wellness stipends.
Curran believes Meta’s expansion will help them.
“These investments make the pie bigger. They make Toronto, they make Ontario more of an attraction for workers, for companies of different sizes,” she said.
“As the system becomes stronger and as it grows, that’s going to be good for everyone.”
She also announced Meta will offer $510,000 in unrestricted grants to 17 Canadian research labs working on projects poised to advance metaverse-related innovations.
The recipients of the $30,000 grants include researchers from the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and University of Waterloo.
Meta will not place conditions on the funding or ask that it be applied to particular initiatives, Curran said.
— with files from Global News’s Kayla McLean and The Canadian Press’s Tara Deschamps