High technology lands on the island

It may be an island but Victoria is convinced that it too can compete in the global technology industry, and a recent study, entitled CREATE, highlighted the state of the sector and identified concerns that need to be addressed.

According to the study, conducted by the Victoria Island Advanced Technology Sector, Victoria is currently home to 1,200 technology companies, employing more than 15,000 individuals. Most, however, are small companies that employ fewer than 10 people.

Doug Taylor, VIATeC CEO in Victoria, said the study confirmed that the sector is growing at a steady pace of around 20 per cent a year. One dilemma that faces Victoria is that most companies are not aware that the city is committed to the industry. Two slogans have since appeared to promoting Victoria: “The Intelligent Island” and “Tech Harbour.”

A common problem however, is filling demand for positions. Taylor said local universities cannot graduate enough people to fill positions. But Taylor praised universities and colleges in Victoria for producing individuals who are skilled and are entering the technology industry.

Keith Elwood, CEO for Limekiln, said he has awaited such a study for four years, to benchmark where Victoria’s technology industry stands. Elwood said that educational institutions are now beginning to realize their importance in the sector. He targeted co-op programs as having the biggest advantage, because they establish partnerships between educational institutions and business, and are mutually beneficial because student bring an eagerness and willingness to an employer who can supply hands-on experience, Elwood said.

He believes Victoria’s strength is their existing skilled workforce, and the loyalty of these individuals. He said unlike the U.S. where people are more likely to re-locate from Northern Virginia to Houston to Oregon, residents of Victoria stay there for lifestyle reasons first and economics second.

However, Elwood said, “salaries are not dramatically competitive yet.” And Taylor echoed that, adding that previously Victoria’s companies didn’t feel obliged to provide competitive salaries because individuals were attracted to the beauty of the island. Taylor referred to it as the island discount, and for an industry that is recognized as paying their employees premium dollars Taylor recognizes the need to make the transition to pay equity.

For Taylor, one of the primary objectives is the need to promote the industry. “We’re looking at attracting people to the island, who don’t know the high technology industry is here, (and) that leading-edge work is being done here.”

However, Elwood believes one of the current stumbling blocks is the provincial government. The “government is an active participant in the workings of business, (and) it should be an active regulator in the workings of business, not a participant.” Elwood said the government does not realize that small- to medium-sized businesses are the real engine in the economy. Taylor agreed, adding that the provincial government has not been pro-business.

What is the future for the industry in Victoria? When asked to peek into a crystal ball, Elwood said that with the nature of high technology changing so rapidly, it really is difficult to assess where the island will be in three years, but that the study has begun to at least address that question.

The study was undertaken in 1999 and 2000, and the statistics were released in July of 2000. For more information, visit the VIATeC Web site at www.viatec.bc.ca/create.