Access to talent, training of talent, and improvements to transportation infrastructure were among the key issues raised by local business and academic leaders during meetings Friday in Waterloo Region with Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips.

“Nobody comes to KW without knowing about the challenges that this growing economy has in terms of better access on rail and road,” said Phillips, who said he was in town to hear from the community ahead of his Nov. 6 Fall Economic Statement, “and make sure that our government solutions are aligned to the challenges that [people are] facing.”

The Fall Economic Statement is an annual update of the province’s books, distinct from a budget, the most recent version of which was tabled last April.

“Based on what I heard today, the areas of focus we have around connecting people and work will make a big difference,” Phillips said, asked if the Nov. 6 statement will have specific help for the tech community.

“The focus that we already have around affordability – $26 billion in tax relief for businesses and individuals – very much aligned to what was said [by local leaders].
“And I think the skills conversation – preparing people for jobs – [is] one of the major reforms that we've already enacted with universities, including the great partners here at Conestoga, Waterloo and Laurier, [and] moving from a system [where] funding won't be just based on enrollment, but will now be based on outcomes, including making sure people are job ready, and I heard from both universities today that that's going in the right direction.”

Phillips, the MPP for Ajax and a former MBA student at Wilfrid Laurier University, toured Communitech and Velocity, the University of Waterloo startup incubator, after meeting with local companies and other local leaders. It was Phillips’ first visit to Communitech, which receives a significant portion of its funding from the Ontario government.

Asked about the place of incubators and accelerators in the province’s economic fabric, Phillips, who took over as finance minister from Vic Fedeli last June, was supportive.

“Clearly the ability for communities to coalesce, for people to work together – I mean, if you want, [this is] the 21st-century version of the chamber of commerce, but with that digital component.

“I think the success of Communitech speaks for itself.”