Local tech companies welcome Quicken Loans as potential game changer

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell

 

Quicken Loans’ decision to set up a tech centre in downtown Windsor is being welcomed by local Information Technology and Communication (ITC) companies as a potential tipping point in accelerating the growth of the local industry.

The Detroit-based firm, which will operate out of the Old Fish Market, announced plans Monday to employ about 50 people to start with the potential to expand that to 150 over time.

“This is huge, a potential game-changer,” said Doug Sartori, owner of the local IT firm Parallel 42 Systems.

“This is something a lot of people watching the tech industry in Windsor have been saying is required — greater integration with Detroit in the IT sector. This is exactly what we were look and waiting for in terms of investment.”

The announcement is the largest example of the benefits of the city partnering with Detroit on last year’s bid to land Amazon’s second headquarters. Quicken Loans’ founder Dan Gilbert chaired that joint Amazon bid.

Red Piston co-founder Ali Al-Aasm added landing a brand-name corporation like Quicken Loans is the catalyst the local tech community needs.

“They bring a presence and a credibility to the industry,” Al-Aasm said. “We’ve seen this in London with the arrival of Digital Extremes. There wasn’t much of a gaming industry there and now there’s all kinds of companies and jobs.”

Al-Aasm said adding good paying, cutting-edge tech jobs will also help keep graduating IT students and draw more from outside the area.

Windsor has struggled to hang onto its talent with students and employees seeking higher wages and better opportunities elsewhere.

In a Workforce WindsorEssex IT study released this summer, 50 per cent of the 32 St. Clair College IT students surveyed said they intended to leave the area for work. The same study showed the local IT workforce only grew by 85 people between 2011 and 2016 to 3,085.

“It puts us on the map,” said Al-Aasm, whose firm is looking for a couple employees.

“People will know we have good IT jobs in Windsor. I can’t believe people from Waterloo and the Toronto area wouldn’t come with the fantastic cost of living advantages here.”

Selling those advantages is the job of Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation CEO Stephen MacKenzie.

“We’ve been making progress in the tech sector with four tech companies coming here in the last couple years in addition to Quicken Loans,” MacKenzie said. “This is a huge one though.

“What better validation of what we’re doing is them investing here. The value of this in terms of marketing and public relations is extraordinary.”

Shelley Fellows, president of operations for Radix Inc., said Quicken Loans’ decision is ‘actually quite clever.’

“There’s a number of newcomers in our region with skills that couldn’t get across the border,” Fellows said. “For Quicken Loans, this represents an untapped pool of talent. It gives those who can’t cross the border a base to work from.”

Fellows, whose own firm is looking for employees, said the local tech community has needed such an employer to create the quantity and right mix of tech jobs to produce the multiplier affect needed to jump start growth.

“Adding Quicken Loans, I believe, is the tipping point so we can really start to grow,” Fellows said. “It helps us all.”

AlphaKOR president Frank Abbruzzese is expecting to see more American companies follow Quicken Loans’ move to access the deep pool of talent being produced in southwestern Ontario universities and colleges.

“For the first time, we’re hearing some Canadian commuters to the U.S. can’t get their visas renewed,” Abbruzzese said.

“American firms are not bringing talent over as easily, so you’ll have more companies come across the border.”

Abbruzzese said his own firm has seen people will come to the area for quality jobs. He’s successfully recruited employees from coast to coast in Canada and from overseas.

“Bringing in new people also creates new ideas,” Abbruzzese said. “People in tech often see opportunities for their talents and try it on their own. It promotes growth from within.”

Local companies admit they’re likely to face some short-term pain trying to compete on talent and wages with Quicken Loans. However, they see the long-term benefits as outweighing the initial growing pains.

“If they pull 50 developers and engineers all from Windsor that would create a huge hole,” Sartori said. “The competition for talent is already fierce.

“Those growing pains we’ll have to work through. The by-product is high-end tech jobs and more competitive wages and that will only help Windsor and our industry.”