“Everything Moves Fast” How Halifax Became a Canadian Technology Center
HALIFAX – In early 2021, Simon Cusack sold his home in the west and moved to the east coast with his wife, son and one of Canada’s most promising tech startups.
The Rafflebox co-founder, which hosts sweepstakes and fundraisers online, came in search of the ocean, a better work-life balance, and Halifax’s burgeoning tech community.
“We’ve been very drawn to the startup scene here,” said Cusack, who left his job at Dell Technologies at the start of the pandemic to focus full-time on Rafflebox as director of operations. “The support for startups is incredible. The doors started to open for us as soon as we arrived.
Nova Scotia, once known for its traditional primary industries, aging population and westward migration of workers, is changing.
Today, the province is home to hundreds of startups and emerging tech companies, an ambitious training plan, and a growing population.
Experts say Halifax’s growing tech ecosystem is at the epicenter of the digital shift making the province one of Canada’s hottest tech hubs.
They say a growing network of startups, mentoring organizations, venture capitalists, training programs and government support are encouraging digital innovation, creating jobs and boosting the economy.
“A strong support network is the key to innovation,” said Ellen Farrell, professor of management at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. “Isolation is a real problem for startups.
It did not happen overnight.
Halifax’s tech workforce has grown steadily by 24% over the past five years, according to global brokerage CBRE.
It ranked the city seventh on a list of 25 emerging technology markets in Canada and the United States, just behind Albany, NY, and ahead of Providence, RI, according to CBRE Scoring Tech Talent’s 2021 report.
Across the province, more than 26,000 people are now working in Nova Scotia’s $ 2.5 billion tech sector, according to industry association Digital Nova Scotia.
The burgeoning tech community has helped attract big players.
Toronto-based digital entertainment company Wattpad announced plans to open a second headquarters in Halifax in late 2019.
The company, which is expected to receive wage discounts from the province, now has 30 employees in the Halifax area and plans to increase that number to 100 within five years.
“Halifax’s talent is incredible across many disciplines,” said Allen Lau, co-founder and CEO of Wattpad. “The talent pool is also very important, it is not just about young graduates. “
But the problem is to ensure that there are enough workers to meet future demand.
Take Halifax-based Redspace. The software company, a full-service digital studio specializing in video solutions, has seen demand soar during the pandemic.
“Two years around the world, stuck at home excessively watching videos, has accelerated the transformation of the industry we serve,” said Mike Johnston, President and CEO of Redspace.
“Demand has never been so … strong,” he said. “We have grown and recruited at a breakneck pace. ”
The company has hired 105 people so far this year, bringing the total workforce to around 300. But there are still 30 to 50 people short.
“We are constantly under-staffed,” said Johnston. “Wages have gone up quite dramatically… everything is moving fast. “
Wayne Sumarah, CEO of Digital Nova Scotia, said the pace of growth is expected to remain high.
“We don’t see it slowing down,” he said. “The biggest challenge facing our industry right now is the workforce. “
The solution appears to be twofold: to increase both the population in general and the tech workforce in particular.
The first is well advanced. The province announced last week that Nova Scotia’s population has reached one million after record growth during the pandemic.
Much of the growth was due to interprovincial migration, with many new residents originating from Ontario and Alberta – a reversal of a decades-long trend of leaving for work.
“After years of population decline, the world is learning how special Nova Scotia is,” Premier Tim Houston said in a statement. “We have momentum and we are growing. “
To boost the province’s tech workforce, the Nova Scotia government came up with a solution last spring. He announced $ 16.8 million in funding to strengthen computer science programs at four universities in Nova Scotia.
Dalhousie University, which received $ 13.3 million, launched a campaign called Here We Code last month.
The Halifax school has said it will double the number of computer science faculty and researchers and increase its computer science enrollment to more than 2,500 students as part of the campaign.
“Nova Scotia’s tech community has been growing for years, but COVID has been like stepping on the accelerator,” said Andrew Rau-Chaplin, Dean of Computer Science at Dalhousie University.
“It’s not going to stop,” he said. “People are stunned by the opportunities. “
The problem is to meet the growing demand for talent to ensure that the tech sector can continue to thrive here.
“Each of our undergraduate co-op students and 100% of our graduate students who have completed internships as part of their program are placed,” said Rau-Chaplin.
“My feeling is that if we had twice as many students, they would all be placed equally. “
Rafflebox co-founder Cusack said the skilled workforce from Dalhousie and other post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia was a key factor in relocating operations to Halifax.
“We really wanted to open our office here,” Cusack said, noting that 13 of the startup’s 20 employees are now based in Nova Scotia. “We’re hiring six more here in January. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 19, 2021.