Intelligent Canada: our leading 21st-century communities
Since 1999, the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum has been awarding the world’s best examples of a 21st century community. Winners are determined by investment in information and communications technologies (ICT), the creation of a broadband Internet-based economy, and the creation of jobs. Over the years, a number of Canadian towns and cities have been recognized for their efforts to evolve from a resource or manufacturing-based economy to a more diverse, knowledge-based economy. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.
By Christine Wong and Brian Jackson
This city got a global boost when pop phenom Justin Bieber tweeted words of support for his hometown’s bid to be named a top ICF city last June. The ICF site nearly crashed from all the extra traffic. The city can boast about more than just Bieber’s Twitter reach: Research in Motion Ltd. is doing some testing there, RBC chose it as the site of a new $400 million data centre, and the neighboring University of Waterloo offers courses in the city. Stratford also has an extensive Wi-Fi and broadband network, a smart grid system to save businesses and residents energy, and an aggressive campaign to lure more tech businesses.
Saint John, New Brunswick
Saint John made headlines last year when Radian6 was bought by Salesforce.com in a deal worth $326 million. There’s more to its ICT sector than that. The local Propel Saint John tech incubator initiative has bloomed into an Atlantic Canada-wide startups program called Propel ICT. That effort is helping Saint John shift from a manufacturing economy to services-driven one focused on ICT, life sciences, tourism and energy. Home to Canada’s first university computer science program, Saint John’s ICT sector has created 1,515 jobs in the last decade and the city is getting even more wired with the completion of Bell Aliant’s fibre-to-the-home project to provide hi-speed Internet service.
Canada’s second oldest city has long been known as a government town, an economy dominated by public service jobs. But that’s been changing over the last several years with a renewed focus on diversification into ICT-heavy sectors. Quebec International submitted an application to the ICF so it could attract investment and talent from the outside, and help Quebec firms export their products and knowledge elsewhere. Key to Quebec’s ICT development over the past five years has been ZAP Quebec’s Wi-Fi access points located across the city, and Bell Canada’s Fibe broadband service roll out there. Quebec International has reported the creation of 25,000 jobs in the past two years – mostly in the knowledge-based economy.
Although this city’s biggest IT exporter, Research In Motion Ltd., is facing some challenges, Waterloo’s tech scene is still thriving. In 2011 local tech firms raised $70 million and over 300 new startups were founded, nearly double the startups founded in 2010. Local IT business organization Communitech is adding 15,000 square feet to its Hub incubator facility and the new Institute of Quantum Computing is taking up residence at the University of Waterloo. The latest news is the launch of the Hyperdrive accelerator program to kickstart 90 startups over the next three years.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Fredericton is smaller than many other Canadian tech cities, but it’s had some huge successes lately, including homegrown firm Q1 Labs, bought for an undisclosed sum by IBM Corp. About 2,400 people work at approximately 180 ICT companies in Fredericton. It’s a relatively small ICT cluster made up of mostly smaller firms. Small doesn’t mean slow, though. Fredericton was the first Canadian city to offer free Wi-Fi to all businesses and residents starting in 2003 through its Fred e-Zone project. More recent signs of growth include an expansion of the Greater Fredericton Knowledge Park and the establishment of the National Research Council Institute for IT in the city.
Ten per cent of Calgary’s total workforce is employed in the ITC sector, the second highest concentration of ICT workers per capita among major North American cities. Over 2,400 companies employ about 55,000 people in the sector. Calgary’s rich resource-based history in the mining, oil and gas sectors has made geomatics a major tech niche in the city, employing about 20 per cent of Calgary’s overall ICT workforce. Digital media is coming into its own now, representing about a quarter of Calgary’s ICT companies today.
Moncton, New Brunswick
Many still think that Moncton is and old, sleepy railway town. But an initiative to provide free wireless Internet access throughout the downtown core and fibre connections to the home have changed that. After CN decided to pick up and leave town in the 1980s, the backbone of the economy was suddenly gone and the local government scrambled to replace that driver. By quickly investing in ICT infrastructure through the Vision 2010 plan, Moncton become a near-shoring destination where many Canadian customer contacts and back offices are located. More than one-third of the workforce have jobs created in the past 20 years.
Toronto’s IT sector has always been driven by its position as the home of many corporate headquarters and the epicenter of Canada’s financial services sector. Now the city’s ICT industry is buzzing with many Web, mobile, gaming and social media startups. The launch of the new Jolt accelerator at the MaRS Discovery District will only boost that activity further. One of the biggest IT staffing firms in the U.S. just ranked Toronto’s IT job market as the second hottest in North America, topping even San Francisco. But a recent Toronto Board of Trade study said more access to venture capital and better commercialization research are needed to keep the city among the top IT hubs in the world.
Almost 2 billion years ago, Sudbury was struck by a massive asteroid from space that left behind Earth’s second-largest, and oldest-known, impact crater. The resulting geological impact created rich stores of nickel in the region’s bedrock, leaving it destined to be mined by modern human civilization. But with the development of a fibre-optic infrastructure that includes more than 2,500 km of cable, Sudbury is much more than a mining town today. Its SmartSudbury project promoted the use of the Internet, created a virtual museum, a Geographic Information System, and issued building permits online. The creation of community portal mysudbury.ca put the icing on the cake.
Once the home of IT giants like Nortel Networks Corp., Corel Corp. and Cognos Corp., Ottawa is shifting away from its traditional reliance on telecom firms to give more support to digital media and mobile startups. A milestone in that transformation is the recent shutdown of the Ottawa Centre for Regional Innovation (pegged by some critics as too focused on events rather than entrepreneurship). It’s been replaced by Invest Ottawa, a new agency that’s working more closely with local government, setting measurable financing and startup targets, opening a tech accelerator, and concentrating on seven major growth areas: wireless, photonics, defence and security, cleantech, life Sciences, and film, digital media and TV production.