Vancouver’s position as the country’s No. 2 destination for tech companies looking to establish operations in Canada fell victim to the backspace button in 2016.
The West Coast city dropped to third place after Ottawa made gains in CBRE’s Scoring Canadian Tech Talent report, released November 23.
CBRE examined the country’s 10 biggest cities and ranked them as tech hubs based on 14 factors focused on tech talent employment, education, high-tech clustering and cost competitiveness.
Despite the city’s high cost of living, the report noted Vancouver is still a competitive city for companies looking for highly skilled talent and relatively low labour costs.
And Vancouver may make gains in next year’s rankings.
This week Facebook announced it would add 16,000 square feet to its footprint to downtown Vancouver when it moves to new offices at Cadillac Fairview’s Waterfront Centre.
This comes a few weeks after Amazon announced it was opening a second downtown office in Vancouver and adding about 1,000 new workers.
A few days earlier, Microsoft announced it was adding 50 jobs focused on virtual reality and augmented reality to its Vancouver office.
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Five years after its initial attempt to launch in Vancouver, Uber and other ride-sharing services look set to get the green light for B.C. roads this year.
The province announced Tuesday it will be ready to roll out ride-sharing services by the holiday season of 2017, meaning the introduction of Uber or Lyft would have to come after May’s provincial election.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the government, particularly from millennials, to get something that is beyond what the taxis are offering,” said lawyer Bill McLachlan, who represents the BC Taxi Association.
“If the Liberals get elected, they want to dangle these incentives. And if they don’t [get elected], who knows where these things will go?”
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Peter Fassbender, who handles the ride-sharing portfolio in cabinet, and Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the government would help the taxi industry to stay competitive.
Among the initiatives announced was an investment of up to $1 million to develop a new app for the taxi industry with shared dispatch, as well as hailing and payment options similar to what other ride-sharing services offer.
The province also said it would work with municipalities to allow ride-sharing drivers and taxi drivers to pick up and drop off in different cities.
Currently, a Vancouver taxi driver can pick up in Vancouver and drop off in Coquitlam. But the Vancouver driver would not be able to pick up a passenger in Coquitlam while driving back to his home base.
“It’s very progressive thinking,” said Nitesh Mistry, director of business operations at Vancouver-based Ripe Rides.
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Increased investment in wireless phone and high-speed Internet infrastructure in northern British Columbia is a welcomed change for local businesses.
“I wouldn’t say it affects my business so much as it enables my business,” said Steve Tory, founder and CEO of Dino High Tech Solutions, an IT and marketing company based out of Tumbler Ridge.
Telus has committed to investing $4.5 billion through 2019 across the province. Some of the investment will be used to extend fibre optic infrastructure directly to homes and businesses. The new infrastructure will help increase Internet access and connectivity in the more rural areas of British Columbia’s north.
As part of a strategic partnership with the province, Telus has also invested $1 million to develop wireless access along Highway 29 between Hudson’s Hope and the Highway 97 junction. The investment brought wireless service to the Moberly Lake community located near Chetwynd, which is 100 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge.
Naomi Larsen, executive director of the Chetwynd Chamber of Commerce, said the area’s First Nations communities and businesses have greatly benefited from the wireless connection along Highway 29, which has given them access to wireless services for the first time. That access can create opportunities that small and local business never had before, as it did for Tory.
Tumbler Ridge is a small town of just over 2,500 people located near the northern Alberta border. It was recently the beneficiary of a similar infrastructure investment that helped connect the region to the 21st century. Before the upgrade, Tumbler Ridge citizens and businesses relied on outdated technology to connect them to the rest of the world. For Tory, access to a high-speed Internet connection meant that he could leave his job in the oil and gas sector and explore entrepreneurial opportunities. He said that without high-speed Internet he wouldn’t have dreamed of opening a tech business in northern B.C.
Broader Internet access not only helps Tory find customers locally but also allows him to compete internationally. While he would like to see more money invested in tech infrastructure in the north, Tory said the region is ahead of the curve, particularly when compared with rural areas in the U.S.
“It really did make a dramatic difference to the community,” said Donna Merry, former secretary for the Tumbler Ridge Chamber of Commerce. “Small businesses now have access to the technology that they need to do their business. This was not always the case.”
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TransLink wants to raise all-time-high transit ridership even higher in Metro Vancouver with new projects and modifications to its Compass card fare system.
Long-sought major projects, such as the Millennium Line extension underneath Broadway to Arbutus Street and light-rail transit in Surrey, are high on the agenda for Metro Vancouver’s transit authority.
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond, however, told Business in Vancouver January 26 that other initiatives are afoot to try to get more Compass cards into the hands of Vancouverites and to make the transit system more accessible for tourists. He calls this project Compass 2.0.
“It’s possible, maybe by the end of this year or the following year, that we will have open payment on Compass, where you’re able to just tap a credit card and go though [fare gates],” Desmond said.
Other aspects of Compass 2.0 include possibly linking a Mobi by Shaw Go bike-share membership to the Compass cards or linking pre-paid BC Ferries fares onto the cards, Desmond said.
Desmond hailed the Compass card system as a success in part because TransLink counted 384.83 million separate boardings on SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express and Coast Mountain Bus Co., combined, in 2016.
He said that figure was 4.5% higher than in 2015 – though different counting methods were in place before Compass cards were introduced to the public in December 2015, and TransLink closed SkyTrain station gates starting in April.
Now, more than 95% of all TransLink transactions take place using the blue plastic cards.
More than one million Compass cards are in use, which means that more than 40% of people in the region have one, Desmond added.
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