Employment in Ottawa’s technology sector has reached record levels.
Nearly 82,000 people are employed in that sector, according to an annual survey conducted by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI).
These jobs are spread over 1,819 diverse companies, 80 per cent of which have less than 50 employees, according to OCRI president and CEO, Jeffrey Dale.
He says the hi-tech job numbers – comparable to Silicon Valley – represent the foundation for ongoing success of the region’s high technology cluster.
The strong hi-tech employment numbers demonstrate Ottawa’s success in creating what one Canadian industry observer calls “technology clusters.”
Clusters are found where you have a collection of interrelated firms and a workforce with specialized skills that those firms can draw upon, said David A. Wolfe, a University of Toronto professor of political science.
Wolfe has done extensive research into the formation and development of clusters in several Canadian regions, including Ottawa.
He credits OCRI with playing a major role in building and sustaining Ottawa’s new tech boom.
“I know that people in other parts of the country look at OCRI and say this is a very useful asset to have in helping support the growth of a cluster.”
They are not just a high tech phenomenon either. In Canada there are automotive clusters, aerospace clusters, wine clusters and specialty food clusters. Wolfe believes that clusters are natural economic phenomena.
“You can’t mandate a cluster to emerge in a certain city or region,” he maintains, “although our research demonstrates overwhelmingly that governments often create the conditions that are conducive to the emergence of clusters.”
In particular, governments can contribute to a strong research infrastructure, and they help build a highly-skilled local labour market, he said.
“But you then need entrepreneurial firms to build the cluster. You need people who are willing to take entrepreneurial risks and start their own firms.”
“To form those companies,” OCRI’s Dale adds, “you need ideas, you need people, and you need money.”
He outlined some of the programs that OCRI runs to address each of these areas.
These include a variety of forums and events that bring researchers and entrepreneurs together to share ideas, promotional efforts aimed at building linkages to other high tech centers around the world, and programs that bring smaller employers and new graduates together.
OCRI also leads a national program called Canada’s Top Ten, which showcases the nation’s best entrepreneurial innovators.
In Ottawa’s case, there was another factor.
Research by Wolfe and his colleagues shows that some large firms, such as Nortel and Mitel, acted as incubators for entrepreneurs.