Port Moody investigating high-tech park potential

With the Evergreen Line on the horizon, it's possible that a high-tech park in Port Moody may not be far behind.

The city's economic development committee (EDC) has revived discussions on building a local high-tech park, a plan that was initially investigated in 2009 but dropped the following year because there was no funding to develop a business plan.

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Coun. Gerry Nuttall said members of the current council wanted to re-open the investigation so it was put on the EDC's 2013 work plan and a sub-committee was formed to look into it further.

Nuttall said a high-tech park is an attractive - and feasible - business proposition because it would bring highly paid jobs in a clean industry to the city.

"I believe it is feasible because with the growth of Port Moody coming, a large amount of commercial office space will be available and it should be very attractive to developers to put in a high-tech park," he said, suggesting the planned nine-storey office tower Onni will be building at its Suter Brook development as an example.

Port Moody is currently updating its official community plan with a focus on transit-oriented design principles around the two Evergreen Line stations to encourage new residential, commercial and retail growth.

Nuttall said developers have expressed interest in contributing both expertise and funding to developing a business plan for a high tech park - an "encouraging sign."

Shahid Hussain, the retired CEO of the New Media Innovation Centre and a founding board member of MITACS, a Network Centre of Excellence, was heavily involved in the 2009 discussions on a PoMo high-tech park and said it would offer significant benefits to the city.

"It's ideal, it's non-polluting, it brings white-collar jobs and creates indirect blue-collar jobs... and would bring innovative, creative people to Port Moody," Hussain said, in addition to diversifying the tax base and easing the pressure on residents.

Both Hussain and Nuttall touted PoMo's close proximity to Vancouver, destined to become an even shorter distance once the Evergreen Line is built, and the city's natural surroundings as elements that would strongly attract high-tech workers keen to live and work in the same city.

But Hussain also emphasized that a detailed business plan is key before moving forward so that there is a strong understanding of how the city can benefit long-term.

He was among the group of council and staff members who travelled to China in 2009 to investigate about eight high-tech parks. Their research showed that while financial incentives need to be offered - whether it's tax relief or professional services - the technology parks become "major drivers for economic development and job creation," according to a 2009 presentation by then city manager Gaetan Royer.

Another element that was key to many of the parks' success was close ties to neighbouring universities producing graduates eager to start their own high-tech business in an "incubator" park, which Nuttall described as likely the most viable option for Port Moody.

For now, the sub-committee will be pursuing the same next steps that were being considered four years ago - developing key business partnerships, both locally and abroad, exploring partnership possibilities with post-secondary institutions and securing funding to create a business plan.

If it comes to fruition one day, Nuttall said a high-tech park would bring economic benefits and more.

"We all look for quality jobs to come into our communities, and these would be quality jobs."

spayne@tricitynews.com

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