An article in The Verge this week posited the not uncommon suggestion that as goes RIM, so go the fortunes of its home town, Waterloo. Now, I’ve been travelling down to Waterloo every couple of months for the past four or five years, and we’ve written a heck of a lot here about what’s going on in the tech scene there. And I just don’t see any circumstance wherein that town needs to throw itself on any RIM funeral pyre. (And, for the record, I’m a long way from believing that RIM’s demise is in any way yet predestined.)
I have been saying for a long time — and getting an understandably warm reception in Waterloo for doing so — that RIM’s demise will not have nearly the same impact on Waterloo as Nortel’s collapse had on Ottawa. (Although I also don’t subscribe to the theory that Nortel’s death was the core cause of whatever misfortunes might be plaguing Ottawa’s technology sector; our endemic structural inadequacies were far more to blame.) The Verge article correctly points out that Waterloo and RIM are closely identified with each other in the same way that Redmond, Cupertino and Mountain View are indelibly associated with Microsoft, Apple and Google respectively. Nobody would be foolish enough to suggest that any of those cities would die should their most well-known corporate citizen shuffle off the mortal coil; each is far more diversified than that. And I wish the armchair pundits would stop suggesting that such is Waterloo’s unavoidable fate.
Let me be clear. RIM did not make Waterloo; Waterloo made RIM. And in the years since RIM was spawned, Waterloo has built a massive and growing nurturing infrastructure that is kicking out additional technology companies at the pace of more than one every day.
RIM’s demise, if it happens, will be sharply felt by the philanthropic community that, as the Verge article notes, has been a massive beneficiary of all the loose change clanging around in shareholders’ pockets and in the promotional budget envelopes of company executives. The broader technology community, however, can only gain from the freeing up of two of the scarcest resources in the city, talent and space. That talent dividend is already being realized; many mid-level managers at RIM, people with years of broad international experience, are departing to join smaller companies, including raw startups. This will only accelerate.
Bottom line: Don’t light RIM’s funeral pyre just yet. But if it is ever lit, most certainly do not expect Waterloo to commit suttee.