Alberta’s presence doubles on Deloitte Fast 50 list

Alberta is becoming known for more than just right-wing politics and oil. It is increasingly proving its technological prowess — and recently almost doubled its presence on Deloitte’s 2003 Canadian Technology Fast 50 list.

The western province stampeded its way up the 2003 rankings with 11 of its companies making the list, up from six finalists in 2002.

Deloitte’s Fast 50 ranks Canada’s 50 fastest growing technology companies over the past five years. In this study, Deloitte measured growth of firms from 1999 to 2003. However, Deloitte will not announce the rankings until Sept. 29, 2004.

Since the Fast 50’s inception seven years ago, Alberta has averaged four or five finalists reaching a maximum of seven in 2001, said Garry Foster, national director, technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte in Toronto.

Foster explained that Alberta has developed some large anchor tenants like Telus Corp. and Novotel, whose presence has spurred on the province’s tech industry. It also has a great education system such as the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, which are key players in the province’s tech industry, he added.

“If you’re going to develop a technology company in Alberta, you have to think how you’re going to sell your product not just outside of the province but outside the country,” he said. In comparison, Ontario is a big enough market that Ontario-based companies can survive selling solely to provincial customers. As a result, Alberta firms have developed their North American and global sales strategies more rapidly and have been driven to succeed globally, Foster explained. This strategy has created new opportunities for Alberta companies and has contributed to their growth, he added.

In the latest Fast 50, Ontario held its number one spot by contributing 16 finalists, stealing the lead from British Columbia, which placed a close second with 14 finalists. In 2002, B.C. tied with Ontario and both contributed 15 finalists that year.

Quebec plunged to fourth place with six finalists compared with 13 finalists in 2002 while Manitoba returned after a three-year hiatus with two companies and Newfoundland re-surfaced after a year-long absence with only one finalist.

Nineteen of the Fast 50 companies deal in software, while seven fall in the category of ‘other’, ranging from clean power to Extensible Markup Language (XML) editors, for example. Six companies deal in life sciences, six in telecommunications, while four were categorized as communications/networking companies and another four as Internet/e-commerce shops. Only three companies from the semiconductor/equipment realm made it on the list, while one computer/peripheral firm appeared.

Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion Ltd. stood out among the 50 companies as the only company that has made the Fast 50 list since its inception seven years ago, Foster noted.

“We’re seeing a lot more repeat companies on the list which generally would indicate that the bigger companies just keep getting bigger,” he said. But by 2005, Foster expects a big changeover in the list’s occupants because as companies increase their revenue it gets more difficult for them to sustain high percentage growth, he explained.

This is evidence of the industry maturing but Canada’s tech sector has yet to reach adulthood. It is in its late teens, he said, compared with the tech boom of the late 1990s where it was still in its infancy.

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