The technology industry in BC witnessed a resurgence since 2008-2009, recently placing 9th on Startup Genome’s ranking of the 20 best cities where high-growth technology startups thrive. Vancouver is beating larger centres such as Chicago, Paris, Sydney and Singapore.
BC Technology Industry Association president Bill Tam recently said, “the home grown successes of Hootsuite, BuildDirect, Vision Critical, Avigilon cast a spotlight on Vancouver… as [companies] see the progress that those companies have made and where it makes strategic sense to invest… Vancouver marks very high on that scale”.
One giant bellwether for technology ecosystem success is Microsoft and this summer, they announced the opening of a new training and development centre which will significantly expand the company’s investment in BC. The new “Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre” (MCEC) is slated to open by late 2015 and will be located in the heart of downtown Vancouver. A recent study by Ernst & Young LLP estimated that Microsoft’s new investment in Vancouver will be at least $90-million annually, resulting in more than $181.4-million per year in direct, indirect and induced economic growth. The direct investment alone will add up to almost a billion dollars over the next decade.
“Vancouver is a vibrant international hub for technology development with growth potential given its attractive location, amenities, reputation and proximity to top British Columbia universities and a highly-educated and diverse workforce and population,” says Janet Kennedy, president of Microsoft Canada. “This investment will enable us to create a world-class center of training and innovation that will have a positive ripple effect across the local, provincial and national economy.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Marc Seaman, national director of education and public affairs for Microsoft Canada, to find out why Vancouver has been so successful in attracting investment over the past five years in the technology industry.
Q: What has been Microsoft’s experience having a satellite office in Vancouver?
“Living and working in downtown Vancouver, the feedback is tremendous,” says Seaman. “Vancouver has a vibrant multicultural society and the location being in an urban setting is appealing not only to corporate Microsoft employees but also employees at [Microsoft’s video game developers] Black Tusk and Big Park Studios.”
Q: What is it about Vancouver that appeals to Microsoft?
“When employees live in Vancouver, they don’t want to leave. This speaks volumes as to how they enjoy the environment, the social network, and Vancouver as a tech hub,” explains Seaman. “In 2007, Microsoft’s Vancouver Development Centre opened in Richmond, but our learning was that people wanted to be in Vancouver.” In 2011, Microsoft decided to consolidate the offices so that everyone was together in Vancouver. Eventually, Microsoft expects this new MCEC will house at least 750 Microsoft employees.
Q: Does the proximity to Seattle benefit your Vancouver office?
“Absolutely,” says Seaman. “By air or car within a few hours, with the type of integrated development work that we do at Microsoft, this is really important and was a key consideration in expanding the office to Vancouver.”
Q: Is there any other news you would like to share with EP&T’s readership?
“Foundry Vancouver, which will hire 25 interns from across Canada once operations are up and running in the fall, will provide an opportunity for some of the best Canadian students to share their skills with our teams,” says Seaman. This paid internship program, which will eventually grow to 50, invites development and design students enrolled at Canadian universities to participate in a 16-week intensive program that centers on building applications for Microsoft’s latest platforms and devices.
This Foundry Vancouver program and Microsoft’s investment in BC is important validation of Western Canada’s continued emergence as a world-leading hub for innovation, with new investment and job creation in the region’s fast-growing technology sector.