January 21, 2016 11:52 am
Updated: January 21, 2016 9:18 pm

Alberta NDP adding $5 million in funding for tech companies

WATCH ABOVE: More Albertans are collecting Employment Insurance. In an effort to turn that trend around, the NDP announced more money to diversify the economy. Tom Vernon was there.

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EDMONTON – The Alberta government is providing an additional $5 million in funding for technology-based businesses.

The government believes the additional money will help diversify the economy by allowing small innovative and technology-based businesses gain access to services and expertise they need to get their ideas and products to market.

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“This type of initiative is absolutely needed for, again, companies to get a start to be able to fund, whether it’s product testing, prototyping, etc.,” Deron Bilous, minister of economic development and trade, said.

The program will also double the number of technology development advisers to assist businesses with technical, product development and business expertise, the NDP government said.

“With the help of Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures’ programs, we developed and fielded a unique combustion and thermal transfer technology that has prove to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 35 per cent compared with traditional combustion technologies,” Hank Mottl, Absolute Combustion International Inc., said.

The additional funding is on top of $4.1 million in the budget, which goes through the Enhanced Innovation Voucher, Bilous said.

The government’s climate change strategy calls for the accelerated phase-out of coal power by 2030, replacing it with a mix of natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar.

“Our government has a plan and we are taking concrete action, as today’s example of increasing the voucher program. Looking at a multi-pronged approach as far as economic diversification and in growing our economy,” Bilous said.

“Essentially working with businesses and industry, I mean the folks who are the job creators, on how we can best partner to ensure that Alberta is one of the best places to live, work, to start, grow a business.”

READ MORE: Quick facts on Alberta’s climate change policy

It is this shift that has a number of NAIT students very confident about their future job prospects.

“The jobs that will be coming in and the money being invested into this area will dramatically change the economy here,” said Charlie Lewthwaite, a second year student in NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technologies program.

“You really see a really strong workforce here, and the opportunities that the Alberta workforce can bring to the sustainable energy movement is incredible.”

WATCH BELOW: Alberta’s oil and gas industry has shed thousands of jobs over the last couple of months. When it comes to diversifying the economy, those in renewable energy believe they may be the answer. Tom Vernon explains.

The program, which teaches students the ins and outs of things like wind and solar power, started in 2011 with 24 students. It has since grown to 28, but with the number of applications on the rise, the school has had thoughts of further expansion.

“The vast majority of the people in the program are actually retooling their careers,” said program chair Dr. Jim Sandercock, pointing out that many of the students already have other degrees, or have worked in other trades.

When students leave the program, around 80 per cent have been able to find careers in their new field, with close to 15 per cent actually starting their own businesses.

“We’re getting more calls from companies saying, ‘We’d like to start working on our HR plan, do you have graduates that would fit?'”

One of the companies on the front lines of the shift to renewable sources is SkyFire Energy. CEO David Kelly said his company has installed upwards of 40 per cent of the solar capacity in the province, and if the NDP government is serious about investing in the industry, he sees solar power becoming a major player.

“It could probably provide 20, 30 per cent of our energy in Alberta,” Kelly said. “We have a great resource here, so it’s fairly easy to do, it’s just going to take a little bit of work to get there.

“We think the future’s pretty bright for solar energy in Alberta.”

 

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