For Jason Kryski, the Central Okanagan is the place to be right now in Canada when it comes to a growing tech sector.
The chairman of the very successful Kelowna-based Strawhouse Inc., a tech start-up that helps direct-to-consumer Internet companies gain customers, and the CEO of Uncoil, another tech start-up that builds software for e-commerce sites, said Thursdaythat the industry in the Central Okanagan is growing quickly as there’s great demand for products and services developed by local tech companies.
“There is a lot of opportunity around growth of the sector,” he said prior to Accelerate Okanagan releasing results of a new study showing the impact of the technology sector on the regional economy.
Accelerate Okanagan CEO Raghwa Gopal said the study found the tech sector is now worth estimated at $1.67 billion to the regional economy.
He said the sector now employs 12,474 workers and there are now 693 technology businesses in the Okanagan, a 24 per cent increase since 2013.
“We are excited by the consistent growth indicated by the findings in this report,” said Gopal, speaking at a press conference at Kelowna’s Innovation Centre Thursday.
“This study provides proof of what those working in the Okanagan tech sector have long known—big things are happening here, and we’re just getting started. The Okanagan is ripe with potential for entrepreneurs of all kinds.”
The Economic Impact of the Okanagan Tech Sector study was conducted by a third-party researcher through Small Business BC. Data was collected from 103 Okanagan tech companies via an online survey.
It is the third economic impact study commissioned by the Okanagan-based technology accelerator, which conducted studies in 2013 and 2015 using the same process.
This year’s report also draws on benchmark data from the latest iteration of the province’s annual Profile of the British Columbia High Technology Sector.
Both Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Carmen Sparg and Mayor Colin Basran also pointed to the importance of the tech sector for the city, with Basran saying it not only has an economic impact but also an educational one. And it presents opportunities for young people here as more jobs are being created by the tech sector.
He and Kryski both pointed to the work UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College have done in recent years crafting post-secondary programs to prepare students for the industry.
Kryski said most of the people his two companies have hired in recent years have been from the Okanagan.
Sparg, who is heading to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting in Thunder Bay in two weeks, said she plans to introduce a resolution at the AGM calling on the federal government to provide tax incentives for the tech sector similar to those provided for the film industry.
She said the film industry and tech companies, such as video game makers, are also competing world-wide and selling their products internationally. But currently, she said they do not enjoy the same incentives others in the entertainment industry do.
While the news about the study’s findings was seen as positive, the report also indicated there are challenges that need to be addressed if the expected growth of the tech sector in the region is to continue.
They include a small talent pool, distance to clients and cost of living.
But Basran said the work by UBCO and OC on its programming is helping address the talent pool issue and as the city grows, other lifestyle issues that attract tech industry workers to town, such as a vibrant arts scene, diversity and improved amenities continue to develop.
“It’s also a good place to raise a family,” he said, noting the finding that the tech workforce is getting younger with 55 per cent of workers now aged under 35, an increase of three per cent since 2015.
Corie Griffiths, executive director of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, said the study also found the growth of tech companies with fewer than 50 employeeswas double the B.C. average in Kelowna in recent years and triple the national average.
“The 2018 Economic Impact of the Okanagan Tech Sector provides proof to back up anecdotal evidence pointing to the Okanagan as an exciting hub for tech and innovation in B.C.,” said Griffiths.
“Local tech and tech-enabled companies across industry sectors are solving complex problems in the Okanagan and around the world,driving international attention tot he region and employing more than 12,000 highly skilled workers. It’s all here now.”
Griffiths said the tech industry is much larger than many people think. She said local tech extends into areas such as agriculture, manufacturing and aerospace.
As for reaching other parts of the world with local technology, Kryski said all his clients, at both Strawhouse and Uncoil, are from outside Canada.