Ministry Identity: What’s in a Name?

Not much, if you’re the B.C. minister responsible for technology.

You would think if you were an industry that represented 5.3 per cent of the provincial GDP, you might command a little respect; surely the provincial government would dedicate a ministry to you. Well, not really. The Ministry of Economic Development just added a word to its title to sweep this industry into the general economy and at least make it known where industry members should call if they have an issue. I am talking, of course, about B.C.’s technology industry, which is now represented by the Ministry of Technology, Trade and Economic Development.

I understand why this huge and growing industry is not important enough to have its own ministry. Politicians may be motivated to follow money, but they are more motivated to follow votes, and the high-tech industry in B.C. employs a mere 75,000 voters (up from 55,000 just six years ago), while other sectors employ many more. But technology is, almost by definition, a high productivity sector; you get much more money out per person employed. It is also a “green” industry with a low carbon footprint and little or no pollution. And it attracts the most desirable residents for your province’s future: young, educated, ethnically diverse hard workers. It should get a little more respect.

The local tech industry has not created household names. After Telus Corp., and with the possible exception of Ballard Power Systems Inc., few could rhyme off our largest technology companies from the past decade. PMC-Sierra Inc., whose market value is nearly as large as Canfor Corp. (BCBusiness Top 100 No. 11) and MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., whose market value is nearly as large as Methanex Corp. (BCBusiness Top 100 No. 12) are our largest technology companies. But I doubt your next-door neighbour could tell you what these companies do.

How about the largest acquired technology companies of the last five years? The sale of Aspreva Pharmaceuticals Corp. (which sold for more than $900 million), Crystal Decisions (more than $1 billion) and Club Penguin Entertainment Inc. (more than $350 million) are big deals, attracting big foreign buyers and making shareholders wildly wealthy. Did you know about them before they sold?

What about the next wave of technology success stories? Where is the next Intel, Microsoft or Google? There are many up-and-coming stories of innovation and market success. Some are publicly traded already, such as Sierra Wireless Inc., Absolute Software Corp. and Day4 Energy Inc., but many are private. In the red-hot clean technology sector, we have the rapidly growing Delta-Q Technologies Corp., Azure Dynamics Inc. and Tantalus Systems Corp. Others have enormous promise, such as ­Lignol Energy Corp., NxtGen Emission Controls Inc. and Angstrom Power Inc. Local information technology companies winning global market share in their sectors include Bycast Inc., Zeugma Systems Inc., Strangeloop Networks Inc., Layer 7 Technologies Inc. and ACL Services Ltd. I could go on and on: biotechnology, wireless technology, digital entertainment, Internet content and services and so on. There is a very diverse and exciting industry bubbling away right under our noses.

Any of these might become a significant global technology company. If you are shaking your head, thinking that big technology companies only grow in Silicon Valley, take a gander at Waterloo, Ontario, population 175,000. Home of Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM), which until its recent slide in share price was Canada’s largest company by value. Prior to RIM, Waterloo’s biggest technology success was Com Dev International Ltd. Who? Exactly. With apologies to Frank Sinatra, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It’s up to you.

I think the technology scene here in B.C. is worth a little more attention, don’t you?