14 Nov Opinion: Super, Technological British Columbia: B.C.’s tech sector leads economic growth
Article by Bill Tam published by The Vancouver Sun.
“Super, Natural British Columbia.” Every year, millions of visitors stream into our province for a glimpse of what Destination B.C. refers to as “the kingdom of abundance. Where glaciated mountains stand over an unruly Pacific, rain-forests wrap cities, nature shapes culture.”
It comes as no surprise that most people — regardless of whether they’re from B.C., other parts of Canada or other places in the world — naturally associate the economy of our province with our abundant natural resources.
For more than 130 years, that perception was absolutely correct. From the time that B.C. joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871, forestry, agriculture, mining and oil and gas have played a prominent role in shaping our province’s economic fortunes.
Around 10 years ago, this changed.
The turning point came in 2006, when employment in B.C.’s burgeoning tech sector surpassed the combined total employment in forestry, mining and oil and gas. Then, in 2009, the tech sector surpassed B.C.’s traditional resource sectors in overall contribution to provincial GDP.
It was a watershed moment, but one that is only now coming to the forefront of public consciousness.
Since 2008, the B.C. tech sector has been an engine of growth for the province, growing at twice the rate of the overall provincial economy. The recently published 2016 B.C. Technology Report Card showed that the tech sector grew by more than 14 per cent in the past two years, far outpacing the growth rates in Ontario and Quebec and even the entire U.S. market.
This amazing growth story has led to a tech sector that now accounts for $26 billion in revenue, $15 billion in GDP, 92,700 employees and $8 billion in wages
The most remarkable aspect of the B.C. tech story has been the growth in jobs and wages. Tech jobs earn wages that are 76-per-cent higher than the average B.C. wage. At an average of nearly $82,000 per year, tech jobs represent one of the few safeguards against rising affordability issues.
The demand for more tech workers is palpable. Tech companies from small to large, across all regions of the province, are clamouring for more people, with a diverse range of job opportunities including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, product management, technology development and finance. The most pronounced needs are in tech-relevant positions — design, software development and engineering — and this has led to an all-time high demand for training and spaces at B.C.’s colleges and universities.
Earlier this year the provincial government published a comprehensive framework in the #BCTECH Strategy for growing the tech sector in British Columbia. Although many provinces have attempted similar undertakings, the #BCTECH Strategy is the first of its kind that reflects the priorities set out by the tech community in the B.C. Tech Association’s 4-Point Plan and marks a crucial step in orienting policies and programs in support of a technology-based economy.
One of the boldest aspects of the strategy was the announcement of a $100-million investment in venture capital, culminating in the launch of the #BCTECH Fund last week.
The province rightly recognized that a burgeoning tech sector cannot thrive and cannot grow without venture capital. All of today’s biggest tech companies — companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and local success stories like Avigilon, Build Direct, Hootsuite and Slack — all depended on venture capital at critical stages of their growth. Venture capital allowed them to scale quickly, expand their markets and ramp up their hiring to take advantage of the market opportunity.
In recent years, the availability of venture capital in the province had diminished significantly. This was made evident by a 60-per-cent decline in the number of B.C.-based venture capital firms and a 50-per-cent decline in the amount of local capital available for early stage tech companies.
In order to rejuvenate the venture capital environment in B.C., the province consulted with industry and studied venture capital frameworks from across the country, including the federal government’s Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) — a program that also recognized the importance of venture capital to Canada’s economic prosperity. The federal VCAP program committed $400 million to support the creation of more venture capital funds and increase the investments in early-stage tech companies and has since leveraged over $1.35 billion in new venture capital commitments.
The announcement of the #BCTECH Fund is a significant milestone for the B.C. tech sector and one that will help to solidify one of the key pillars in the province’s tech strategy. It represents a crucial first step, one that we hope will be complemented by further policies on growing the talent base and expanding market access for B.C. tech companies.
With strong leadership and bold action, British Columbia can and will be a leading technology ecosystem, not just in Canada, but as the global player it deserves to be.
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