Tech isn’t just a Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island industry anymore.
There’s a new economic powerhouse in the B.C. Interior – the growth of which is nothing short of stunning.
“Definitely a huge expansion in the technology industry here,” says Brea Lake, director of operations at Accelerate Okanagan – a not-for-profit organization that provides technology-driven businesses the mentorship, connections, and community they require to thrive.
While the common perception of the Interior’s economic strength focuses on forestry, mining, and tourism, the burgeoning tech sector has quickly become the new sheriff in town.
Leading that trend in a very big way is Kelowna.
“I think a lot of the businesses here in the Okanagan are home grown,” says Lake, who admits that much of tech’s growth comes down to the Southern Interior’s desirable lifestyle.
“With the power of technology, a great idea has the potential of developing into a billion-dollar company” adds Lake.
At last count, the Kelowna region was home to nearly 700 tech businesses, providing employment for about 12,000 workers. A new analysis of the Okanagan’s tech sector pegged the industry’s annual economic impact at $1.67 billion – which surpasses tourism.
Accelerate Okanagan also reports that over the last four years, the regional tech industry has grown 15% annually, and accounts for 10% of downtown Kelowna office space.
But while the rise of the Okanagan’s tech industry has been meteoric, it hasn’t come without challenges.
“We have a job board on our website and right now it’s at an all time high” laments Lake, who points out that on average, there are well over 100 job postings monthly.
She adds that while the support of Okanagan College and U.B.C. Okanagan has been critical, demand for computer minds far exceeds supply. Just two years ago, just 6,000 Kelowna area jobs involved the tech sector.
It’s also worth noting that the rise of tech is contributing to a younger demographic in the Kelowna region, with over half of those employed under the age of 35.
Kelowna also isn’t the only Interior community embracing technology as a future economic powerhouse. Things are also hopping in Kamloops where companies such as iCompass, Itel Networks, and Hummingbird Drones are on the rise and constantly looking for new talent.
“Our mission as a technology incubator is to establish an eco system for tech driven companies,” says Lincoln Smith, executive director of Kamloops Innovation.
Smith hesitates to speculate on the overall economic contribution of his city’s technology sector – but he notes that traditional industries such as forestry and mining are embracing technology like never before.
Back in Kelowna, planning is underway for the April 11th Okanagan Angel Summit. Based on a similar event in Seattle, it’s an opportunity for tech companies with big ideas to sell themselves to deep-pocketed investors. At the same time, Lake is adamant that Kelowna’s tech sector has now shifted from start-ups to growth stage companies, pointing to firms like Yeti Farm, an animation studio that currently employs 60 people and expects to hire 40 more by the end of this year.
At last word, British Columbia’s tech industry was generating about $15 billion in GDP which equates to approximately 7% of the province’s overall economy. By comparison, the forestry sector is responsible for just over 3%.
The B.C. economy is clearly changing – and the Interior is determined to change with it.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter: @kammornanchor
Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.