The ground at the future site of Cochrane’s innovation centre is vacant, cold, and under a covering of snow.
The parcel of land, on Railway Street W across from the Cochrane Public Library, doesn’t look like much now. Hopefully in a few months the ground will be broken and the ambitions and promises of economic prosperity for our community will come to fruition.
Earlier this month Mayor Jeff Genung told the Cochrane Eagle that the $10 million innovation centre will drive economic diversity in our town. While the rest of the province grapples with the oil and gas downturn, we might keep our heads above water thanks to the centre.
The town hopes to lease 21,865 sq-ft of the 39,275 sq-ft space at commercial rates. The funds generated by leasing will support the incubator space for early stage start-up companies.
Cochrane has done a fine job establishing itself as a Silicon Valley with a view of the Rockies. Garmin, 4iiii Innovations, mcThings and other technology companies call Cochrane home and put a spotlight on our community as a tech hub with no business tax.
Deron Bilous, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview and former Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Alberta, explained why Alberta’s tech sector isn’t a separate entity and why it’s the lifeblood of our province’s economy.
Bilous said the tech sector isn’t a distinct sector like agriculture or energy, it’s a platform. Technology companies support and enable the province’s oil and gas, agriculture, health and other sectors. He said the “critical” industry needs more attention from the province’s UCP government.
Considering all of Cochrane’s eggs are seemingly in one basket at the moment, we might want to pay more attention to marketing our unique innovation space beyond Alberta’s borders. A perfect example would have been to have a representative from our provincial government at the Consumer Electronics Show that was held from Jan. 7 -10 in Las Vegas.
Predictability, Bilous was heavily critical of the UCP’s “narrow minded decision” to forego the show and risk jeopardizing the future of our province’s economy.
A spokesperson on behalf of Tanya Fir, Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, said the UCP did not participate in the show because of the province’s current “fiscal situation and efforts to restrain spending”. The UCP felt that spending thousands of tax dollars without certainty of a return of investment for taxpayers would not be fiscally prudent.
Bilous said that Alberta was one of the only provinces at the show that didn’t have representation. We’re also one of the only provinces swimming upstream in economic uncertainty with a government spending $82,000 every day on the Canadian Energy Centre, the pro-oil and gas communications outlet.
The four-day show attracted more than 4,000 companies including 1,200 startups and featured the latest transformative technologies. Bilous said in previous years Alberta technology companies have left the show with an 80 per cent success rate at securing new business, contracts and trade deals. He said in the business world there’s never a guarantee, but the only thing you guarantee is zero business if you don’t attend.
Attending the show under the banner of Alberta is sending a signal to the world that this is a priority for our province and that Alberta is open for business. Wait, wasn’t that Jason Kenny’s election slogan?