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Expanding tech sector pumping billions into region’s economy: VIATEC

The sector accounted for total direct revenues of close to $5.9 billion last year, says the industry group

Greater Victoria’s tech sector not only thrived during the pandemic but it is on track to reach its goal of $10 billion in annual revenues by 2030, its industry association said Thursday.

The sector accounted for total direct revenues of close to $5.9 billion in 2023, after ­climbing at a “healthy pace”’ from $1 billion in 2004, said a new report on the economic impact of the sector in the ­capital region.

Indirect revenues brought in another $2 billion, pushing the total economic impact to $7.9 billion, it said.

Total employment in the sector rose to slightly more than 20,000 workers last year, from 16,775 in 2017. Of those, technology firms employ 17,897 people while 2,110 are self employed.

The report was prepared by Alan Chaffe, senior manager for economic research at the Conference Board of Canada and an instructor at the University of Victoria. It was commissioned by VIATEC, the Victoria ­Innovation, Advanced Technology, and Entrepreneurship Council.

The technology sector in the capital region doesn’t just include information and communications services. It also covers areas such as ocean and marine technologies, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, education and training, gaming and entertainment, life sciences and online marketing.

The pandemic brought an “unexpected boost” in some ways, VIATEC chief executive Dan Gunn told a sector meeting at the Fort Tectoria office on Fort Street on Thursday.

“A lot people started turning to tech solutions as a way to get through the changes [due to] the pandemic. So there was a lot more digital adoption and there was a lot more innovation to the traditional industries. So we were pleasantly surprised.”

As in many other sectors, the number of people working full-time in an office in the tech sector declined because of the pandemic, sliding by 40 per cent, Gunn said. The number of people working from home doubled and those in a hybrid situation increased by 31 per cent.

“That changed things forever,” he said. Companies are now reviewing how much in-office space is needed.

Gunn said finding trained tech employees is a global challenge.

In 2022, there were far more job openings than there were people, he said, adding the situation has settled down a little now that the investment market has cooled.

These days, there isn’t as much capital available and valuations are not as high, so everybody is stretching their money further, he said.

The report notes that in the “fast-paced technology industry, where innovation is constant, the demand for specific skills among technology workers is constantly changing.”

Within the capital region, software engineering and development skills are most in demand, followed by marketing, sales and product management.

At this time, there is actually a surplus of junior talent in the region, Gunn said.

Key advantages to attract people for the local tech sector include post-secondary institutions, a mild climate and favourable lifestyle and a shorter commute than in some other communities.

But the availability and affordability of housing is the top challenge for companies, closely followed by the cost of living, the report said.

“We have definitely heard from employers saying, ‘It is really hard when employing somebody to help find them a place to live … I know there are policy efforts to try and fix that and I’m hopeful that they’ll work,” Gunn said.

The province has initiated a package of initiatives to increase the amount of housing, including allowing multi-plexes to be built on previously single-family lots and boosting housing near transit terminals.

Tech firms said top barriers to success were recruiting technical staff and senior management. Next on the list were access to financing and factors such as limited government support, a reliable supply chain and access to new markets.

VIATEC is taking part in the federal Start-Up Visa program, which allows foreign entrepreneurs to apply for a visa to Canada to start a company.

“We love this program,” Gunn said. “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of applicants from around the world.”

The organization provided a letter of endorsement for 35 applicants to give to ­Immigration Canada. Of those, just over a dozen have set up in the capital region. VIATEC is a designated body permitted to endorse people through the program.

“Our belief is that this is a great way to expand our economy and attract more companies,” Gunn said.

“Because they are international entrepreneurs, they have ties to investors and talent from where they come from which opens up the opportunity for people here to move into new markets, get new investment and attract new people.”

Looking into the future, Gunn said that technology moves quickly and the role of AI — artificial intelligence — was not predicted five years ago.

“I think we are going to see more use of tools like that for increased productivity.”

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