The CEO of an Edmonton-based tech company says the Alberta government missed a huge opportunity by not sending a representative to a major electronics trade show earlier this month.
TIQ Software CEO Jason Suriano attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. The annual event attracts business leaders and next-generation innovations from around the globe and has become one of the biggest showcases of breakthrough technologies.
Tech companies from across Canada head south each year in hopes of showcasing their work. Suriano said it’s an important space for his company — which helps companies onboard and train employees with a game-based software — to drum up support and drive attention back to Edmonton and Alberta’s tech sector.
What he couldn’t help but notice, though, was a lack of support from the provincial government. He said every province at the show had representation except Alberta.
“It’s frustrating because, on one hand, I understand it’s my responsibility as a business to drum up support, but I think it’s a massive missed opportunity by the province, in particular, to have even just one rep along with us to sort or drive some of those delegates towards us,” Suriano explained.
“We’re just so small as a tech industry so when you go to a show like CES and you see how big those other delegates are from other provinces or individual states, you realize how we just really need a little bit of extra support.
“And I’m not asking for a massive delegation, but even one or two people from the province would help us bullhorn our message and what we’re doing.”
Suriano said Quebec’s representative was particularly impressive and included a government minister. He said he was even approached by a Quebec company about an opportunity to set up a division of his company in that province.
“I think they can see when we don’t have support or if we’re kind of by ourselves. So it’s a little bit discouraging and it does start to cause some companies to think about what other opportunities there might be out there.”
Eventually, Suriano was picked up by the Tech-West delegation out of Manitoba and worked with them, but it meant wearing a badge saying he was from Winnipeg.
Suriano said if the support for the tech sector doesn’t come soon, he fears companies will take their business elsewhere.
“At the provincial level, it’s been pretty quiet right now and I don’t know if it’s because they’re a newer government or what’s happening, but it would be great if they got on board sooner than later because tech moves at a really rapid pace so it’s only a matter of time before we fall behind,” he said.
Alberta government practicing ‘fiscal restraint’
The government said the decision not to send staff to CES was made in light of the province’s fiscal situation and efforts to restrain spending.
“Spending thousands of tax dollars without certainty of a return for taxpayers would not be fiscally prudent,” said Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson with Alberta Economic Development, Trade and Tourism.
“The government is working hard to create a competitive tax and regulatory environment to support Alberta businesses. We are also currently engaging on the best ways to support the tech sector with our Innovation Capital Working Group and will have more information in the coming months.”
NDP MLA and Alberta Economic Development, Trade and Tourism critic Deron Bilous said they sent a senior representative to CES for the past three years, one of many ways the previous government showed its support for the tech sector.
“We know that we have incredible talent, incredible companies here and so we chose to send a representative to support them and most importantly, to send a signal to the world that this is a priority for the Alberta government, that we support the tech industry,” he said.
“I can tell you that not being there sends an equally loud message.”
He said a lack of support in the industry will have a lasting, trickle effect on other sectors.
“My frustration is that we are already starting to see the effects of this government’s decisions, where you have tech companies that are looking at relocating in other jurisdictions. You have British Columbia welcoming Alberta companies with open arms because they have programs and supports for these companies that we did under the NDP government,” he said.
“We are not only losing out; this is going to have a concrete, tangible impact on the oil and gas sector, on agriculture, on forestry, on aviation, on our other key sectors.”
More work to be done
The president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce said the city has a strong tech sector, but admits there is work to be done.
“There’s a number of factors in play and we have to make sure that all the players are coming together and really working to leverage and strengthen each other,” Janet Riopel said.
“We have to make sure that that business community — which is a relatively new business community for us — has a collective voice, can bring some strength together by working together.”
She said Edmonton is an attractive place to do business, because of its great minds and affordability. She said while there is a risk of Alberta falling behind in this sector, “I don’t think that’s where we’re going.”
“We definitely have work to do and the Edmonton Chamber wants to be part of being part of a solution to ensuring we can build a really strong, vibrant, sustainable tech sector, innovation sector here in the Edmonton region,” she said.
“We have a natural affinity for Silicon Valley, we have the education sector, we have the smart, smart, smart knowledgeable experienced business people here. I think we’ll be able to build and strengthen this economy.”