A Recipe for Tech Advocacy

Tech voters | BCBusiness
The province’s politicians should pay attention to tech’s needs since the industry pulls a major portion of B.C.’s economic weight.

As a major driver of B.C.’s economy, the tech industry should have the ear of politicians up for election next month

It’s election season in B.C. Each of the 2.9 million registered voters has an opportunity to be heard on May 14. As a major driver of B.C.’s economy, the technology industry should be loudly bending the ears of politicians.

Let’s get some facts straight: I use “technology industry” as an all-encompassing term for companies making technology products to sell and companies using technology to enable a service for businesses or consumers. The implication is that technology-enabled service companies like Telus are in my circle, while technology users that provide services, like banks, are not. Under those stipulations, according to BC Stats there are almost 9,000 technology companies in B.C. and only 80 to 90 of those have more than 500 employees.

The tech industry has outperformed others in GDP growth over the past decade and is second only to construction in job growth over the same period. Tech is bigger than mining, forestry and logging, and the hospitality industry was—at last count in 2011—the same size as the wholesale trade industry, according to BC Stats. Tech pays 50 per cent above the average wage and attracts the best and brightest people from around the world. However, we count only 83,680 employees and 18,753 sole entrepreneurs among our tech ranks. That’s about 100,000 voters out of 2.9 million, according to Elections BC. Ouch.

Unfortunately, election outcomes don’t rely on constituencies with the most revenue per voter. Were it based on revenue per voter, technology would be among the most important provincial cabinet postings. Instead, we are tucked into a ministry with advanced education, which is important for sustaining technology, but a tangential industry.

B.C.’s electoral system makes geography another technology industry killer. Most tech voters sit in the 29 Metro Vancouver ridings and are noticeably absent from the 56 other ridings around B.C. Double ouch.

Luckily for those in the technology space, we are the early adopters of social, mobile and web technologies. As a group, we can make a lot of noise among the millions of Facebook and Twitter users in the province. Social media is where stories are generated and ideas get noticed. When paired with good old-fashioned advocacy through traditional bureaucratic channels, policy can be affected by the few.

The Startup Visa program, a new category of visa that would award citizenship status to entrepreneurs that immigrate to Canada, is an example of traditional advocacy working. A small, dedicated group of advocates created the agenda, built the website and arranged meetings with the right people in Ottawa. Then an effective social media campaign helped boost the profile of the cause.

The B.C. Technology Industry Association has a simple advocacy platform that tech professionals can get behind for this election. It proposed four points to help our industry keep up its blistering growth rate: 1) provide more capital for early stage technology companies; 2) find more talent here and abroad; 3) have government, Crown and big companies commit to buying B.C. technologies first; and 4) build physical capacity to physically house, mentor and grow bigger technology companies here in B.C.

Anything that makes it harder for us to develop or attract world-class talent should be heavily jeered on Twitter. Anything that makes it more cumbersome to fund or grow innovation should be panned on Facebook. Become a part of the solution by helping more people understand the importance of technology in B.C.

Yes, I know how ironic it is that you’re reading this in a printed magazine, but hey, so will the 24,000 BCBusiness Twitter followers.