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Montréal International at 25: A public-private partnership that works

An open letter by Jean Laurin, President of the Board of Directors, and Stéphane Paquet, President and Chief Executive Officer, Montréal International

May 31, 2021

It happened 25 years ago, almost to the day.

Montréal International (MI) was created with one goal in mind: speak with one and the same voice on the international stage in the name of the 82 municipalities making up Greater Montréal, and in so doing drive greater wealth creation there.

MI was immediately notable for its one-of-a-kind structure: government support would be forthcoming as long as the private sector believed in the agency enough to finance it as well. A quarter-century later, the model is as sound as ever.

MI’s unique formula that blends the public and private sector makes for a successful mix. It combines a public economic-development mandate with the agility characteristic of top-performing businesses. That exceptional blueprint has been the envy of other Canadian cities and helped ensure MI’s eventual success.

Successful economic transformation

For those who may not recall the Montréal of 1996, its economy was in the doldrums, dependent mostly on traditional sectors, with an unemployment rate of 11.6%. The city nonetheless had bankable assets: it was a globally-minded metropolis, committed to free trade, with a port and two airports, and blessed with a remarkable higher education system.

The key to differentiation was to build on those strengths and revitalize our industrial fabric, targeting a number of high-potential knowledge niches. Twenty-five years on, there is no doubt that this strategy has paid off, and MI has played a part in it. During this time the agency has helped attract more than $21 billion in investments to the metropolitan area and facilitated the establishment of nearly half of the 70 or so international organizations in Montréal.

Along the way, though, Montréal had to confront a paradigm shift that has been quietly occurring all across the planet. Talent does not necessarily go where money is invested – indeed, the opposite is true. With unemployment down and all manner of technology ecosystems burgeoning everywhere, more and more companies began to face difficulties recruiting people. Not just here, but all over the world. To address this, in 2010 MI added a mandate to attract skilled foreign workers, followed soon after by efforts to attract and retain international students. Since the inception of those projects, the team has supported the hiring of some 3,600 workers and provided support and guidance in the immigration process to nearly 13,000 workers.

Looking ahead to the next 25 years

Today, thanks to firm foundations and richly diverse high-value-added industries, the economy of Greater Montréal and that of Québec enjoy an enviable reputation in Canada. After ranking near the bottom on the list of large cities’ economic growth far too often, our city is now back on the podium nationally, sometimes even standing on the top step.

To forge ahead with this transformation, we must seize opportunities for recovery and further green our economy. On that score, the federal government recently announced special funding to enable MI to attract world-class companies and bolster our clean-tech ecosystem.

We will continue to contribute to the growth of ecosystems that create high-paying jobs and where the potential for innovation is high. And we will continue – more than ever – to provide international recruiting solutions to businesses and convince as many students and skilled workers as possible to choose careers in Montréal. When we broaden and diversify our talent pool in this way, all of Greater Montréal and Québec come out winners.

Fulfilling this mission to serve the entire city hinges on the expertise and dedication of a team of 85 employees, supported by a robust network. From private businesses to economic development partners, the three levels of government, academic institutions and research centres, the artisans of the Montréal metropolitan region’s success are many. Equally notable is the fact that this team is ably supported by our committed, high-calibre board of directors, all of whom are volunteers. The MI vision has always been grounded in innovation and daring; no wonder we were honoured last year as the world’s best economic development organization.

Together, let’s take this time to celebrate the international successes of our metropolis, which have not only helped transform its economy but have also laid the foundations for successful recovery. Our work here is not done.

Jean Laurin, President of the Board of Directors

Montréal International

Stéphane Paquet, President and Chief Executive Officer

Montréal International