Toronto may not be the centre of the universe its residents say it is, but the city is about to become a more central part of the Canadian IT industry’s social network.

In mid-August, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) announced it will merge with the Smart Toronto Technology Alliance,

a local group that has concentrated on developing a city-specific technology cluster of new media organizations through educational programs and breakfast seminars. CATA, on the other hand, is best known for its lobbying efforts and “”red book”” policy recommendations.

Barry Gander, CATA’s executive director, says the relationship with Smart Toronto developed last November when the two organizations signed a formal agreement to work on some joint events. CATA had already been working on a strategy to add more regional coverage through its Tech Action Town Hall program where it hosts discussions with local firms across the country.

“”From a public policy perspective, on a national level, I think we bring a nice and strong arrowhead,”” he says.

As part of the restructuring, Smart Toronto Technology Alliance president Cindy Pearson will become a CATA executive director based in Toronto. Three Smart Toronto staff members were laid off in the process. All Smart Toronto Technology Alliance members in good standing will be immediately grandfathered into CATA programs, but they will face a small increase in membership dues when they renew next year, Pearson says. The merger will bring CATA’s total membership to about 700 organizations.

Pearson says the merger would allow Smart Toronto to wind down its Innovation Lab in favour of access to CATA’s electronic marketing and product awareness showcase, which will be launched this month. CATA members, in turn, will gain entry to Smart Toronto’s regional programs and services.

“”Many tech companies across Canada, when they’re looking to broaden their horizons, they look to Toronto as the next place to do business,”” she says.

Though associations such as the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) have admitted to some membership decline in the wake of the industry’s woes, Gander says programs such as Tech Action Town Hall have attracted both large- and medium-sized companies.

Earlier this year CATA merged with the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, while Smart Toronto merged with the Liberty Village Technology Alliance in 2002. A few years ago, ITAC merged with the Strategic Microelectronics Consortium. The Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), on the other hand, which represents 160,000 technical and IT professionals across the country, has largely avoided mergers.

“”We’re non-vendor for one thing, and the other organizations have been very member-specific,”” says Mylene Sayo, CIPS’s public relations manager. “”There hasn’t been a need for anything like that.””

Gander says he believes there is still room for more regional associations.

“”We make it a point to work always with the municipal or local organizations — it just can’t happen otherwise,”” he says. “”It’s not our role to displace them.””

The first fruits of the merger will come this month when CATA and Smart Toronto present a Growth Capital Workshop for women entrepreneurs, Gander says.

Smart Toronto will keep its name after the merger, but will identify itself as a division of CATA, Pearson added.

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