Kanata North is thriving.
Talk to the team at investment firm Wesley Clover, which has been backing and cheerleading the local tech sector for decades, and the general sentiment is that the area is more diversified, scalable and sustainable than ever.
Kanata North now boasts more than 500 companies, large and small, with employment approaching 30,000. It is officially the largest technology park in Canada, contributing more than $13 billion to the Canadian GDP annually.
What is behind the continued strength and resiliency of the local high-tech community? And what innovations and opportunities are on the horizon that bode well for its continued growth?
We connected with Victoria McGlone, COO of the Kanata North Business Association, for her thoughts on the subject.
Q: What do you consider to be the drivers of new technologies and new growth companies in the Ottawa area?
McGlone: The Kanata North area of Ottawa in particular has a deep heritage in voice, video and data communications technologies and applications – think BNR, Nortel, Mitel, Mitel Semiconductors, Newbridge, DragonWave, Alcatel, Lucent, Calian and many other spin-off companies.
While many of those industry leaders have changed over the years, the people behind them did not all fade away. A great many have remained in the area, committed to the evolution of the industry and to mentoring and guiding the next generations of tech workers and entrepreneurs who continue to keep Ottawa and Canada in leadership roles in these sectors.
These individuals and teams have also branched out into a more diversified technology ecosystem, applicable across many industries. This includes Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), data applications and services, cloud and edge computing technologies, video technologies, medical technologies, IoT technologies and more. Companies such as Kinaxis, Entrust, QNX and Solace.
Q: Is there one technology area that stands out in particular?
McGlone: 5G – in terms of the number, scale and scope of the local companies that are investing in next-generation 5G technologies and applications.
Well beyond faster services on our smartphones, 5G is already proving to be a tremendous enabler in other parts of the world for many innovative new applications, products and services – autonomous vehicles, factory automation, Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices of all sorts.
5G has implications and opportunities for growth far beyond the underlying networking gear. And no other area in Canada has the combination of experience, talent and commitment in complementary fields of software, data, computing, applications and other technologies. Kanata North is becoming a leading hub for 5G innovation.
Q: What impact is all this having on talent demand?
McGlone: Competition for skilled workers has rarely been higher. At last count, the local job board (Discover Technata, powered by KNBA) had more than 800 local openings posted from almost 200 firms! Quite unbelievable.
As part of that reality, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University have already opened or have plans to open facilities in the area, to ensure they play an increasingly relevant role in supplying the talent required by this ever-expanding ecosystem. Queens University is also working to understand how it can play a role.
Q: But of course, it’s not just about the technology.
McGlone: Indeed. The fact that we have a great environment, a beautiful city, a terrific standard of living and many more social and life-style benefits behind all this is a definite bonus, and an attractant when looking to have more companies locate here and being able to meet the resulting demand for skilled employees.
Q: What do you consider to be the challenges or potential stumbling blocks to Kanata North’s momentum?
McGlone: We’ve already touched on that very real challenge of increasing competition for the best, most skilled employees.
Increasing salaries are great for the employees, but less so for employers. Especially when competing with the large multinational organizations that operate in Kanata North and enter the area with deep pockets and beneficial foreign exchange rates. Hence the need to cast ever-wider hiring nets and welcome academia to the neighbourhood to help introduce more new grads to the ecosystem.
We will never home-grow all the talent we need, so programs that build bridges with national and international post-secondary institutions, that help repatriate Canadians from other countries, and that help ease the processes for skilled immigrants to come to Canada, are always helpful.
Q: That point about skilled immigrants obviously touches on government policy. How else must government continue to support the tech sector, here and across Canada?
McGlone: The provincial and federal governments have definitely taken notice of the need to move our local and national economies beyond just the resource sector. We need the range of programs they provide to continue to be funded – programs such as SR&ED credits for research and development, IRAP for research assistance, SIF for strategic investments, and others. A bit of an alphabet soup, perhaps, but extremely important federal programs that help companies continue to innovate.
We need organizations such as CENGN (Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks) to have their mandates renewed. We need our local start-up accelerators to be able to access funds and have connections with industry to help with commercialization. We need the local universities to have continued access to funds through programs such as Mitacs for academic research and student funding. These are all vital support components of continued growth.
The City of Ottawa has a role to play also. We need to ensure the Kanata North area continues to be recognized for its contributions to the region, and is able to obtain the transportation, infrastructure and other services required to support such a growing ecosystem. Welcomed moves are already underway in these regards and we really cannot ask more of our municipal government under the current circumstances.
By: Leo Valiquette