Clark: Kelowna’s reputation expanding beyond the growing season

Kelowna is making a name for itself as a centre for high-tech entrepreneurship.

One of the privileges of being Premier is traveling the length and breadth of British Columbia.

Aside from meeting great people and taking in the splendour of our province, it gives me an opportunity to learn how people in each region of B.C. perceive each other. If you’ve ever been to Kamloops, you’re well aware of the friendly rivalry that exists between Kelowna and Kamloops.  So it’s always interesting to hear what people across B.C. are hearing and saying about Kelowna and the Okanagan.

Here’s what I’m hearing: Kelowna is known as a great vacation destination, an agricultural paradise, and a home to great manufacturing outfits. But, increasingly, we’re making a name for ourselves as a centre for high-tech entrepreneurship.

Considering our size, when it comes to successful tech enterprises, we punch far above our weight: Club Penguin, FreshGrade, and Hyper Hippo, to name just a few.

Each of these businesses represents another reason for talented and creative individuals to live, work, and raise a family in Kelowna, whether they were born and raised here, or come from afar.

At the end of July, we took a big step towards solidifying our reputation as a hub of technological excellence, investing $6 million in the new, state-of-the-art Okanagan Centre for Innovation.

The new Centre, a partnership that brings together the Kelowna Sustainable Innovation Group with private industry, Okanagan College, UBCO, Accelerate Okanagan, and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, will be a 10,000-square-foot jewel of a building at Doyle and Ellis. But more importantly, it’ll be an incubator for ideas and enterprises.

The part of the building owned by the Province will be set aside for local tech start-ups at a minimal cost – giving young companies the facilities to go from concept to commercial success. Some of the Okanagan’s best and brightest entrepreneurs, after participating in the Accelerate Okanagan Venture Acceleration Program, will be based in the new Centre as they gather venture capital. Non-profit groups, community organizations, and social enterprises will also benefit from low-cost, flexible space.

This facility is an exciting development, but start-up culture is really nothing new to the Okanagan; it’s part of our culture. It’s that drive that led the first pioneers to plant their crops in this valley, and the tenacity with which W.A.C. Bennett took over a small hardware store and turned it into a regional chain.

Innovation leads to new opportunities and applications we can’t even guess at in every industry and sector of the economy. Health care and education are already being revolutionized by new technologies, allowing us to provide those services more efficiently and effectively. Agriculture, mining, forestry and manufacturing are also ready for solutions that will make BC-based companies more competitive in Canada and the world.

In a rapidly changing world, the Okanagan Centre for Innovation will help put Kelowna and our region at the forefront of innovation that makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

I’m proud that our government can be a part of that work.