The Battle of Waterloo: An outsiders view of BlackBerry's hometown

Over the years, there has been several articles that have taken a look at Waterloo from many different angles and almost all of them include BlackBerry in some way. They kind of have to, given the company's history in the area and over at Fusion they've posted up a new article dubbed 'The life, death, and rebirth of BlackBerry's hometown'.

It's an interesting look at Waterloo with the writer, Kevin Roose, setting out to find out 'what the decline of BlackBerry has done to the community surrounding it' only to find out the Kitchener-Waterloo region is thriving and not the ghost town some outsiders think it might be.

As for BlackBerry, it's not finished yet. The current CEO, John Chen, is a Silicon Valley turnaround specialist who has stopped some of the hemorrhaging, and the company still has $3 billion in cash, plus some valuable patents, that will make it a compelling acquisition if it ever chooses to sell. Today, the company has a reported 2,700 employees in the region, roughly a quarter of its peak headcount. Last year, it began hiring in small numbers again, and it disputes the suggestion that it's pulling away from the town where it was built.

"Waterloo is BlackBerry's hometown and where the majority of our employees are based," Chen said in an e-mailed statement. "We are deeply committed to Waterloo, which grew alongside BlackBerry into a thriving technology center. While BlackBerry's footprint in the community has consolidated during our turnaround, it would be inaccurate to describe Waterloo as a 'company town.' In part because of BlackBerry's international profile, Waterloo is a dynamic city of many successful companies and remains to this day a great place for smart people with a big idea to make a go of it."

Even if BlackBerry survives, though, it will likely be as a mid-sized enterprise technology provider, not the kind of mass cultural icon it once was. The days of hip-hop verses and royal visits to Waterloo are probably over, as are the times when the entire region hummed with BlackBerry pride. Today, several of the old RIM buildings north of town sit empty and locked, with nothing but rows of abandoned cubicles visible through the windows. Most of the people I meet in Waterloo stopped carrying BlackBerrys years ago. (Even Mike Kirkup, RIM's former public face to the tech community, switched to an iPhone in October.)

But if there are any hard feelings about BlackBerry's decline among Waterloo locals, I'm not seeing them. On my last night in town, Chris Plunkett, the director of external relations for Communitech, invites me out to a whisky-drinking party hosted by some young start-up entrepreneurs in town. These are the very twenty-somethings who would be entitled to gloat about having disrupted the old BlackBerry regime, and carrying the banner of innovation for their region. And yet, when I ask people at the party whether they think BlackBerry will bounce back, they hem and haw, and sometimes shift in their soles. But they don't quite say no. Against compelling evidence, optimism prevails.

"Companies root for each other here," Plunkett tells me. "It's Waterloo against the world."

That's just a small excerpt of the full article, but I entirely suggest you head on over to Fusion to read the real deal. It's a pretty awesome read and a great look at what else is happening in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.