Attracting ex-pats to return home ensures a brighter future for the city, a plan for the economic and future prospects of a growing city of Toronto.

The number of Canadians abroad (including myself), 2.8 million according to a recent study, includes scores of bright Torontonians found on trading floors of Wall Street to cultural destinations like London, thriving in different countries and cultures.

A recent report by the Toronto Homecoming Working Group which examined a set of talented people in the early to mid-stages of their careers with links to Toronto choose to live abroad. After a series of focus groups and surveys in TorontoLondon (including yours truly), New York City and San Francisco, found the following findings to why ex-pats decided to leave and work abroad:

  1. Emerging leaders and innovators leave Toronto and then stay away, for better career and educational opportunities.
  2. Toronto is viewed as a highly liveable city.
  3. Leaders and Innovators deem opportunities for career progression to be the most important factor in deciding where to live.
  4. Emerging leaders and innovators appear to return to Toronto at specific points in their lives
  5. Toronto is perceived to lack sectoral focus
  6. Emerging leaders and innovators reported facing barriers to finding employment in Toronto
  7. Toronto is viewed as highly multicultural, yet often not globally-minded, particularly in hiring practices
  8. For most, Toronto’s transportation system is frustrating

According to some experts, of all the factors influencing economic growth, strengths and talents of people are the most important. Research has shown that cities like Toronto lag the world in productivity per worker, as a country, Canada is not doing everything possible to attract and keep the best at home.

Expats perceive Toronto to have a competitive disadvantage in career-related factors: career progression and professional networks and industry growth. Opportunities for career progression is the most important factor in choosing a city in which to live, with the strength of transportation, infrastructure, access to leisure and work-life balance next in line of importance.

Focus groups consistently indicated that Toronto does many things well, but is the best at nothing. New York City is the centre of global finance, San Francisco conjures information technology, Paris and Milan are centres of fashion, and what comes to mind for Toronto? Nothing.

Toronto may be number one in a Canadian context, it is the capital of Canada‘s financial industry, but on a global scale Toronto is rarely prominent, nor does it appear as a global player.

Transportation infrastructure was the one area respondents were less satisfied with Toronto than in the city they lived previously, the absence of a direct connection from the downtown core to the airport as one of the accessibility issues (I’ve been saying this for years). New York City and London focus groups felt the transit systems in those two cities were far superior to Toronto‘s.

The number one factor pulling ex-pats back to Toronto is liveability. Boasting affordable real estate, clean environment, and a pace of life that is much more manageable.

Toronto is viewed as highly multicultural, yet often not globally-minded.

Global competitive of the city’s future, a recommended strategy for reaching out to and attracting people to return are:

  1. Focus on those thinking about starting a family.
  2. Individuals who are career-focused, though want a better work-life balance than in cities like New York City.
  3. Entrepreneurs who are attracted to the relatively cheaper cost of living and the lower wages for world-class human capital.

It aims to focus on ways to make coming back home to Toronto easier by connecting people who have done this and ‘Toronto Homecoming‘ events to encourage networking. Make Toronto a clear choice for global professionals in more fields, improve career opportunities by adopting a sectoral approach and improving the city’s public transit system.

Being an ex-pat myself, these finding clearly have made my decision to leave more clear and find these results encouraging. Now that the reasons are known, perhaps my great city of Toronto can work towards building itself as a global city with opportunity, in many ways Canada still remains a ‘baby’ nation learning from others.

Living as an ex-pat for almost 10 years now, my eyes have opened to how other cities and countries have succeeded in a global view, as we become better connected the world becomes smaller and the more global our view needs to be.

Toronto, if your listening or reading this and you think you’re ready to come out of your shell, I have some ideas on how to do it, contact me.

*The report can be found at: