Tech Hub Showdown: Ottawa vs. Silicon Valley (Bay Area)

Welcome to Part 4 of our Tech Hub Showdown series that compares Ottawa, Ontario, with American tech hotspots. Ottawa’s faced off against Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; and Denver, Colorado. For our fourth showdown, we’ll see how Ottawa stacks up against Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area of California.

Ottawa is Canada’s tech hub with more than 1,700 companies in industries such as digital media, software, and clean tech. Let’s see how Silicon Valley’s workforce, economy, and quality of life compare.

Round 1: Quick facts

Silicon Valley is one of the largest tech cities in the world, and geographically, it’s more than three times the size of the Ottawa area. Canada’s Capital Region is home to 1.44 million residents. 1 In 2020, the Silicon Valley (Bay Area) had a record high 7.77 million residents. 2 Both cities are well-educated with 45.7% of Ottawa’s population holding at least a Bachelor’s degree, 51.7% for Silicon Valley. 3

As America’s tech hub, it’s no secret that Silicon Valley attracts global brands from around the world such as Uber, Visa, Twitter, and Twitch. Often dubbed as “Silicon Valley North”, Ottawa offers tech companies and talent a better alternative to the high price tag that comes with living and working in Silicon Valley.

Many tech giants choose to grow and expand in Ottawa: IBM, Amazon, Apple, and Ford — just to name a few. Shopify, an ecommerce platform that allows anyone to set up a free online store and sell their products or services, is headquartered in Ottawa. Recently, Shopify has become the leading commerce platform for businesses.

Round 2: Tech talent density

Ottawa edges out Silicon Valley when it comes to tech talent density vs. population size. Approximately 11.6% of Ottawa’s population works in tech-related fields, compared to 10.9% for Silicon Valley. 4

World renowned universities and colleges are filling Ottawa’s talent pipeline. Our four major post-secondary institutions (Algonquin College, University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Collège La Cité) educate as many as 130,000 students a year with about 20% of that student population specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Silicon Valley’s Bay Area is home to 50 colleges and universities. The largest is University of California, Berkeley with 39,393 full time students.

Round 3: Tech talent growth

Between 2015 and 2020, the number of tech pros in Ottawa grew by 22.5%. Within the same five-year period, Silicon Valley’s tech talent grew by 16.4%. 4

Students and tech pros come to Ottawa because it’s a major tech hub, offering jobs and opportunities in high tech industries. The city is also home to world-class research centres, top notch academic institutions, and operations for international brands, such as IBM.

Round 4: Average tech salary

The cost of living and doing business is much higher in Silicon Valley compared to Ottawa.

Renting office space in Silicon Valley will cost you about $70.04 per square foot. The same amount of space in Ottawa would cost you about two-thirds less at $25.14 per square foot.5

Ottawa’s salaries outpace other major Canadian cities and expenses are slightly lower than average, making the city one of Canada’s most affordable major centres. Housing and living costs are within easy reach for average income earners in Ottawa. The average tech salary in Ottawa is US $68,000, Silicon Valley’s is much higher at US $144,000 due to higher costs for living and real estate.

Round 5: Quality of living

People come to Ottawa for school and training opportunities but stay because of our high quality of life. Ottawa ranked 19th of 231 cities worldwide on Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey for 2019. Silicon Valley ranked #34. Moreover, Canadian Business magazine called Ottawa Canada’s best place to live based on incomes, car ownership, employment rates, housing, weather, and lifestyle.

Ottawa’s boasts more than 1,000 parks, four beaches, and many cycling and walking paths. The Rideau Canal winds through the centre of the city, and in the winter, the canal turns into the world’s longest skating rink.

Ding, ding, ding…

If quality of life and making your money go further are important to you, Ottawa’s your best bet.

Want more comparisons? Stay tuned for our final Tech Hub Showdown: Ottawa vs. Washington.

For more information on how you can make Ottawa your next business destination, contact our Global Expansion Team today.



1 Statistics Canada. (2021). Population estimates, July 1, by census metropolitan area and census agglomeration, 2016 boundaries [Data table].

2 San Francisco Chronicle. (2020). Census 2020: Bay Area population grew at faster rate than California, with big Asian and Latino gains.

3 CBRE. (2021). CBRE Scoring Tech Talent 2021, Figure 4.

4 CBRE. (2021). CBRE Scoring Tech Talent 2021, Figure 3.

5 CBRE. (2021). CBRE Scoring Tech Talent 2021, Figure 21.

7 CBRE. (2021). CBRE Scoring Tech Talent 2021, Figure 19.

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