Finnish telecommunications giant Nokia Corp. NOK-N has reached a deal with the federal, provincial and municipal governments to tear down its Canadian facility in Ottawa and build a new, 26-acre research and development centre with residential towers and commercial spaces in its stead.
The technology hub, to be located in suburban Kanata about 20 kilometres away from Parliament Hill, will begin construction next year and is expected to open in 2026. The project is aimed at broadening Nokia’s presence in the country. It is using a $340-million investment from the telecom company and $72-million in total funding from the three levels of government.
In interviews with The Globe and Mail, ahead of an official announcement on Monday featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and several other government officials, Nokia executives described some of the company’s sweeping plans for its new corporate campus. The site will particularly help to extend the company’s 5G wireless network, cybersecurity and artificial-intelligence portfolios, said Jeffrey Maddox, president of Nokia Canada.
The federal government has signed a memorandum of understanding to pay up to $40-million toward Nokia’s project, coming from the Strategic Innovation Fund.
According to two different news releases from the federal government, both the 2019 and 2022 funding have been aimed at expanding 5G research and development in Canada. Nokia officials would not say what exactly is different for the two rounds of funding, though clarified that the 2022 government funding will not go toward building the residential or commercial spaces in its new facility.
In an interview, François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, described the 2019 and 2022 funds toward Nokia as “complementary,” but the 2022 funding is “more forward-looking,” he said.
The two rounds of funding “should not be surprising, because they are the largest employer in the cluster,” Mr. Champagne said, referring to the Ottawa-Kanata tech region. “This is really positioning us for the next 10 to 20 years. It is about looking at 5G and also opening the door to 6G,” he said.
Meanwhile, the province is pitching in $30-million for the project through Invest Ontario, a government agency aimed at creating new jobs and revenue streams through investments mostly in the private sector.
The City of Ottawa, through Hydro Ottawa Holding Inc., is providing $2-million in capital contributions, which Nokia said will be used to ensure the city’s electrical and energy system can handle the demands of the project.
Nokia Canada is investing at least $340-million between 2023 and 2027 for the new facility, which Mr. Maddox said will mostly go toward labs, equipment, labour and operating costs.
The project will create at least 340 new jobs in Ottawa, Mr. Maddox said. That brings the company’s total staff in the city to about 2,160 people and a cumulative 2,500 people in the province, he said, adding that most of Nokia’s team in Canada is employed in Ontario.
Staff reductions or pullbacks at Nokia’s current facility are not anticipated. “We expect to grow over time. I mean, there’s always tweaks or realignments or reskilling that we have to do as we go. But we recognize the talent that’s here and we’re making commitments to grow our footprint over time and add jobs,” Mr. Maddox said.
“Part of that includes our ability to reskill people that want to transition from other places. And it also includes hiring talent out of school,” he said. “So, we’re looking at adding upwards of 400 interns and co-op students a year, and then, hopefully, being able to hire a number of those into full-time jobs postgraduation.”
Mr. Maddox would not share details about specific ventures to come or activities to be expected out of the Ottawa facility, citing “the competitive environment” in the tech sector. Mr. Champagne hinted that these could include building high-tech connected cars.
Nokia’s facility will be situated on the Kanata North Business Park, an area believed to be Canada’s largest technology park, with other companies such as BlackBerry Ltd., Cisco Systems Inc., Siemens and Ciena Corp.
According to planning documents filed by Nokia to the City of Ottawa over the summer, the company was seeking to build two office towers and 11 residential towers. The residential towers could range in height between 13 and 29 storeys each, the documents suggest. And there would be sufficient parking in the facility for thousands of vehicles.
Nokia confirmed that it is actively seeking rezoning permits for commercial spaces, which would include restaurants and retailers along with the residential units.
In a farewell speech to the business community on Oct. 12, reflecting on his 12 years in office before an election is held later this month, Ottawa’s outgoing Mayor Jim Watson provided a number for those units: “In Kanata, Nokia is planning a full redevelopment of its campus that will create 1,900 new residential units.”
Nokia is working with developers to manage the residential units, but is not expected to be the landlord of the residential properties. The residential units at the tech hub will not be exclusive to Nokia workers.