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Google looks for talent in BlackBerry's backyard

A Blackberry logo is seen at the Blackberry campus in Waterloo, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A Blackberry logo is seen at the Blackberry campus in Waterloo, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - With Blackberry Ltd shedding staff in its hometown of Waterloo, Ontario, other tech companies, including Google Inc's Motorola Mobility unit, are moving to take advantage of a growing pool of local talent.

Motorola Mobility said on Thursday it plans to set up a new hub in Waterloo, located about an hour's drive west of Toronto.

"We have a small space right now and we're looking to grow considerably," said Derek Phillips, engineering director for Motorola Canada.

He declined to specify the number of new hires expected, but said the company was seeking computer science and engineering talent.

Google acquired Motorola Mobility last year in a $12.5 billion deal that gave it ownership of a large portfolio of communications patents. It has since moved to revamp the company's money-losing mobile phone business.

Google separately has its existing Canadian development headquarters in Waterloo, which boasts an in-office slide.

The company is one of hundreds of tech players with a presence the city, attracted in part by graduates of the University of Waterloo's highly ranked computer science, engineering and technology programs.

The vast majority of local technology companies are small startups looking to make a splash such as the one BlackBerry, then called Research in Motion, made after it pioneered pocket email in the 1990s.

But times have changed for BlackBerry, which said on Friday that it would cut about 4,500 workers, more than a third of its global workforce, and post a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion.

The job cuts are expected to strike a blow to the city and regional economy, given the knock-on-effect on retailers, the property market and local service providers.

The latest layoffs follow other cuts over the past three years as Blackberry bled market share to competitors such as Apple Inc and phones that use Google's Android operating system.

On Monday, BlackBerry said it agreed to sell itself for $4.7 billion to a consortium led by its biggest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.

It is unclear if the sale, if it goes through, will result in further job cuts.

START UPS HIRING

Phillips did not link Motorola's expansion to BlackBerry's troubles, but said the local talent pool was key to the area's appeal.

"The goal is to try to get just as many people who are interested to come out and hire as many people as we can. I think as long as we can find really good people, we will find a way to hire them," he said.

The hiring is not expected to come close to replacing the hole left by the BlackBerry cuts. But members of the local technology community noted that Motorola is not the only one looking to expand in the region.

Mobile payments company Square Inc plans to establish a permanent office in the area in 2014, spokeswoman Lindsay Wiese told Reuters.

Avvey Peters, head of external relations at Communitech, a non-profit that bills itself as a regional hub for the tech sector, said she knew of about 1,000 job vacancies in the industry. She estimates the sector employs about 30,000 people.

"Certainly everybody's watching. Everybody's feeling for individuals who either have been laid off or are going to be," she added. "The local ecosystem created BlackBerry, not the other way around."

(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson. and Andre Grenon)

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