Bruce Ralston, B.C. minister of jobs, trade and technology, and Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson stop at the News Bulletin office Tuesday to talk about touring local tech-based companies earlier that day. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin) Bruce Ralston, B.C. minister of jobs, trade and technology, and Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson stop at the News Bulletin office Tuesday to talk about touring local tech-based companies earlier that day. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Province pushing Nanaimo as potential tech hub

Minister recognizes Nanaimo’s attractive qualities and its challenges in attracting the tech industry

Nanaimo’s tech sector has a lot to offer, provincial politicians say.

Bruce Ralston, minister of jobs, trade and technology, and Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson toured a handful of the region’s tech-based companies recently including Input Logic and LDRLY Games/Eastside Games.

Input Logic, a digital product and interface design studio, is responsible for designing and developing an app for Goose Insurance. LDRLY Games, a division of Vancouver-based Eastside Games located in downtown Nanaimo, claims to be the world’s leading maker of cannabis games, having created the mobile games Bud Farm 420 and Bud Farm Grass Roots.

Speaking to the News Bulletin, Ralston and Malcolmson said their tour was because the B.C. Tech Association has identified Nanaimo as an emerging tech hub.

“Some of the companies that we visited today, I think, exemplify the growth in that sector…” Ralston said. “I think there is real potential there.”

Ralston said Nanaimo is a great place to live with lots to offer such as affordable housing, geographical location and outdoor amenities.

“I think Nanaimo offers a lot to companies that have employees that are maybe at the family formation stage but can’t afford, very easily, a house or accommodation in the Lower Mainland,” he said.

Malcolmson said during the tour she heard from the companies that more competition is better within the tech sector and more tech companies within a single community make it more attractive to potential employees. She said she also heard continued support for foot ferry passenger service between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver, adding that the province has already contributed its share to the project, which is currently stalled due to a lack of investment.

“The next level of investment is up to the private sector,” Malcolmson said.

According to a Scoring Tech Talent report by CBRE Group, a Los Angeles-based commercial real estate and investment firm, Vancouver ranked 12th out of 50 major North American markets based on their competitive advantage and appeal to tech workers and employers. Vancouver was also ranked as the fifth fastest-growing tech market in North America. Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Quebec City and Kitchener-Waterloo were among the top 25 up-and-coming tech markets identified by the report. Nanaimo didn’t make the list.

Ralston said despite the upside Nanaimo has, competition for tech talent is fierce.

“To get people to come here is a challenge although there are all the amenities and opportunities to live here,” he said, later adding, “I think our prospects are really good, but it is really competitive and I don’t think we can or should take anything for granted.”

RELATED: Innovation minister leads tech talk ahead of cabinet retreat in Nanaimo

Ralston said he believes it is the role of the provincial government to help attract tech workers to British Columbia whether it is by offering various incentive programs or improving the education sector so that there is a “steady stream of people who will be looking for work” in the tech sector.

“One thing that I think employers like and students like is co-op programs and there is government support for co-op programs…” he said. “Often that results in permanent employment … so that is a very good way of getting people initiated and interested in the sector.”

Ralston also pointed to a provincial agency called Innovate B.C., which helps startups and entrepreneurs access funding and reach new markets, as one way the province is helping the tech sector. He said the goal isn’t to transform the province or even one particular region into another Silicon Valley, but to help existing industries adapt.

“The goal is to take our very traditional industries, resource industries, that we are very strong at and use technology to help those industries adapt and be innovative and more competitive,” he said.

However, for all the province can offer, Ralston said talented tech workers don’t just factor in location, they also care about the type of work they are doing.

“They want really good work as well. They want interesting, valuable work that they think contributes to not only their own personal growth but there is a sense among many that they want to do something that will help solve the problems of the world,” he said. 
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