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Bill Tam B.C. Tech Industry: The 20 Year Overnight Success Story

In the fall of 2011, B.C. Stats published their much-awaited High Technology Report, which you can view here. Surprisingly, the report was released with little fanfare, despite providing some great information on the progress of the technology industry in B.C.  I suspect the news was somewhat overshadowed by the global economic turmoil of the day and the increasing worry of governments (including that of B.C.) about a general slow down.

The report provided data through the dot-com boom years to 2009 and showed that the tech industry has successfully adapted and grown up in the interceding decade.  Even with the economic ups and downs, technology has continued to be one of the most resilient industry sectors in the province.

In the period from 1999 to 2009, technology was the number one growth industry in terms of GDP.  Equally impressive was the fact that high tech employment was number two in growth (second only to the construction sector), adding 22,000 jobs.  The tech industry now employs more workers across the province (over 83,000) than all of the resource industries combined.  This has been welcome news in many regions where job growth in other sectors has been flat or, even worse, declining.

The regional impact of technology has actually been quite significant.  A quick mapping of roughly 8,900 technology companies in the province shows that tech start-ups are almost as likely to start-up in northern and eastern B.C. as they are on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.   Companies ranging from mobile applications, clean energy technology, information systems and digital media, all dot the landscape from Victoria to Prince Rupert; and from Vancouver to Cranbrook.  There are roughly 4.3 tech companies per thousand workers in the lower mainland.  In Thompson/Okanagan, there are 2.9 tech companies per thousand workers.  The Kootenay and Cariboo regions boast 2.8 and 2.1 respectively.

B.C. can be proud of the fact that we’re home to many global leaders in technology.  MDA in Richmond is pretty much the de facto Canadian space program.  Just down the street, Sierra Wireless has emerged as the global leader in the next generation of wireless communications:  Machine to Machine communications.  Meanwhile, Gemcom in Vancouver continues its reign as the leading software provider for the global mining industry.  There are many more examples, and there’s a multitude of mid-sized companies that are just on the cusp of emerging as global firms.

As we look ahead to the next decade, I fully expect that the technology industry will continue to outperform all other industry sectors in the province.  Subtly and without a lot of pageantry, the tech industry can and will build economic wealth, jobs and opportunities for next generation British Columbians.  Imagine what we could do as a province if we were a little less subtle and more purposeful in shaping the future?

By Bill Tam, BC Technology Industry Association (BCTIA).
Bill can be contacted at btam@bctia.org

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