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May 17, 2007

Tech Beats Tourism in Greater Victoria Economy

I live in a small but amazingly beautiful city on the southern tip of an island off Canada’s Pacific coast. Tourism has long been the local economic driver but as higher paying (generally unionized) manufacturing and resource based jobs vanish, wages from tourism sector have not kept pace with the cost of living. This state has caused a series of cascading economic issues on the south-island in the last decade, especially for young workers just starting out. The situation appears to be shifting.

An interesting stat was released by the B.C. Regional Science and Technology Network yesterday. A report it commissioned revealed that revenues generated by the south-island tech community surpassed those of the tourism industry making high-tech the leading economic driver in Greater Victoria in 2006.

Last year, Victoria’s cutting edge tech sector saw revenues of more than $1.67billion, bringing almost $500million more into the regional economy than the tourism sector at $1.19billion.

According to a report in the Victoria Times Colonist, the survey was completed by 340 of the 878 high-tech firms in the region. 333 of those who completed the survey entered revenue figures totally $1.1billion. The survey extrapolated results for the remaining 545 businesses on the island.

Though the survey suggests average revenues for tech firms on the south-island run towards the $1.3million mark, it should be noted that the top 25 tech firms on the island account for nearly 50% of overall revenues. The 25 largest tech firms on Vancouver Island collectively saw $794,473,278 in 2006, according to the Vancouver Island Technology Centre’s (VIATeC) list of Vancouver Island’s Top25 tech companies.

Quoted in the Times Colonist article, VIATeC executive director, Dan Gunn said,

“When people heard we were a $1 billion industry, they said, ‘wow, I had no idea.’ Well, this reinforces that and because it’s a third party doing the study it will be seen as more valid. … We need to get recognition for our tech sector on a national and global stage because, like everybody else, there are some challenges we face to grow. If people don’t realize they have opportunities here in Greater Victoria it’s that much more difficult to deal with those challenges”

Dan is absolutely right. Victoria, long known as the land of the newly wed and nearly dead, is a serious center of excellence in several tech sub-sectors. The south-island is a special place for tech developers and doers, particularly in the field of online marketing.

Many in the search marketing sector are amazed at the number of high-level SEO and SEM firms or practitioners working on the south-island. Off the top of my head, I can think of ten well-known search marketing personalities living within 25 kilometers of my place and almost two dozen more who live within 100 km. Much of the material written about SEO and SEM technique came from the keyboards of a half-dozen south-island residents.

Though southern Vancouver Island is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and millions of tourists flock here every year to see it, tourism is hardly a solid foundation to rebuild a once thriving resource-based economy. With its high-flying revenues, high-paying jobs and continued rapid growth, high-tech is.

Items like this are worth reporting, especially when one considers the attention the tourism sector receives from regional, provincial and federal governments. As Dan said, it’s time for tech to take some credit. It’s not about bragging. It’s about developing a better, wider reputation for the immense talent in city and the region. It’s about pushing for stronger infrastructure and better conditions for both employers and employees.

IT is rocking this town right now and the ceiling is still too high to perceive. Further growth is going to happen but optimal growth might be difficult to achieve. The greatest challenge facing the south-island tech sector today is a serious skills shortage. With a low 3.5% unemployment rate, Victoria is desperate for workers. We have more than enough work to go around but not nearly enough people to take the jobs. This issue is acutely felt in the tech sector where advanced skills and knowledge are prerequisites for most positions.

Fortunately for firms in the search marketing section of the sector, each of the three major post-secondary schools are running search and Internet marketing degree programs. In the coming year, the first crop of graduates will be hitting their keyboards looking for employment opportunities.

Looking at the results of the B.C. Regional Science and Technology Network survey, it appears those grads won’t have far to look.
Author:  Jim Hedger is the Executive Editor of Jim co-hosts The Alternative on He is also an analyist and writer for Metamend Search Engine Marketing in Vicotria BC, Canada. Believing that the economic fate of former resource-based communities are being transformed with the help of high-tech, Jim’s latest goal is to get Victoria recognized as a center of excellence in search and online marketing.