Salesforce investing $2 billion in Canada, as U.S. tech firms head north

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. business software developer Inc CRM.N will pump $2 billion into its Canadian business over the next five years, it said on Thursday, the latest major U.S. technology investment across the border since early 2017.

Toronto is a hub for artificial intelligence research and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is visiting California this week in part to speak with U.S. technology chief executives. Canadian leaders have promoted their country’s immigration policies as an alternative to the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from some Muslim countries and restrictions on work permits for some foreigners.

A Canadian program allows businesses to get work permits for foreign workers in about two weeks.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff did not specify why the company chose Canada but he said, “Like you, we’re a city that values diversity, we value equality and we also value innovation. ...We know we’ll be able to have a great business environment in Canada.”

The company did not respond to a question about whether the immigration policies in the two countries influenced the decision.

Salesforce said it would increase its Canadian office space, data center capacity and 1,000-strong workforce, without giving details.

“We know that being open to investment and highlighting our extraordinary diverse workforce that’s willing to work hard, innovate and create a future is what it’s all about,” said Trudeau on Thursday at Salesforce’s San Francisco offices.

Several other U.S. technology companies are expanding into their northern neighbor.

In May, Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] said it would open a new artificial intelligence research hub in Toronto.

Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O DeepMind unit in July announced plans to open a research office in Edmonton, and Inc AMZN.O put Toronto on a short list of contenders for its $5 billion second headquarters.

Facebook Inc FB.O in September said it would expand its artificial intelligence research lab in Montreal, where Microsoft Corp MSFT.O also plans to double the size of its research lab.

Several tech entrepreneurs in Canada said the University of Toronto in particular was a draw, thanks to its research in machine learning and other artificial intelligence, and that businesses also could be certain they could hire anyone they wanted, given immigration policy.

“You want the best minds wherever they are,” said Mike McDerment, chief executive of FreshBooks, a Toronto firm that develops accounting software. “The fact that we have this open and inclusive culture, it’s a great advantage.”

Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Peter Henderson, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker