NS economy blooming with economic opportunity

Posted on November 10, 2010 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

NS economy blooming with economic opportunity

A new wall in Dartmouth looks a lot like an old-fashioned property hedge. Green shoots poke out from a layer of sod and 7,000 plants, berries and flowers combine to create a sensational seasonal display of al fresco art. The wall is alive, Canada’s first living wall east of Vancouver. It’s joined by a green roof and other environmental innovations at the Nova Scotia Community College’s Centre for the Built Environment. Consider it the new Ivy League.

“Inspire” literally means to “breathe in” and the living wall encourages Nova Scotians to take a deep breath and peer into a clean, green, technologically advanced future. It seems a good metaphor for the future of Nova Scotia’s economy.

Stephen Lund, president of Nova Scotia Business Inc., sees seeds today that could flower tomorrow, like the recent arrival of the South Korean manufacturing giant Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in Pictou County. With the Province’s help, it’s turning the old TrentonWorks railway cart manufacturing plant into a factory that will build wind-turbine towers and blades. It will eventually create 400 jobs in the area and Daewoo officials told reporters in March 2010 that it intends to build offshore oil and gas platforms in Trenton. It’s also looking at tidal turbines.

“We have to pick some key sectors that we can be world leaders in and make sure we put our efforts behind that,” Lund says. “We could be a world-class financial centre. We could be a centre for aerospace and defence expertise, IT, gaming, clean-tech, niches in the manufacturing sector. We also have a whole resource sector that we need to figure out.”

Technology companies like Research in Motion, the BlackBerry giant, already have a strong Halifax presence. Up-and-comers like Norex, which recently started building apps for Google from its Bayers Lake Business Park headquarters, are poised to take advantage of Nova Scotia’s low operating costs and talented pool of university graduates.

Connecting it all are people like Tim Burke and Stephen Hankinson, the brains behind Tether. Tether is a downloadable application that lets SmartPhone users access their phone’s data plan via their computer, meaning you have free wireless access anywhere you have cellphone coverage. The idea for Tether came in 2008, when Burke got his first BlackBerry. He now had internet access almost anywhere, but some jobs require a laptop and he was fed up with paying for his BlackBerry and paying again to access the internet in cafes and airports. He saw the problem and Hankinson came up with a solution. Tether launched in March 2009 and has sold tens of thousands of copies in more than 100 countries. Recently back from a major RIM conference in Orlando, Florida, Burke says they’ve just started tapping an immense global market.

“Tether is a perfect example of what the opportunity is (here) in the IT sector. There is nothing to manufacture. We sell directly, online, 24/7. Ninety-nine point nine per cent of our users have no idea where Halifax is, and nor do they care,” Burke says. “It’s an amazing opportunity, business-wise. With e-commerce and the world wide web, you really don’t have to be anywhere else to make a huge mark.”

Stephen Hartlen, head of Innovacorp, is excited about Nova Scotia’s tech future. Innovacorp handles the province’s Nova Scotia First Fund to support emerging businesses in the life-sciences and technology sector. Innovacorp’s High Performance Incubation business model focuses on growing entrepreneurial ideas by providing infrastructure, mentoring and investment.

“We’re seeing a lot of interesting opportunities… medical-technology devices coming out of the universities, out of the hospitals,” he says. “It’s not going to replace the size of the Eastern Canadian navy or the hospitals, but there’s enough opportunities percolating out of the universities and hospitals that I think you’ll see a fairly stable and growing medical-technologies industry,” Hartlen says.

A key part of that will be improving access to capital. Businesses need talented people and talented people want competitive salaries and long-term prospects. If a new company has only 12 months of capital, it’s going to struggle to attract workers. Such companies wind up in perpetual fundraising mode and it’s difficult to move forward. Hartlen says the province needs to attract the attention of venture capitalists to shore up its economic future. “We have some, but we don’t have enough,” he says.

Back at NSCC, faculty and students are busy planning for that future. Don Bureaux, NSCC’s acting president, predicts that tradespeople of the future will blend ecology and technology, putting sustainability at the core of almost everything. “The Centre for the Built Environment will play a key role, looking at how to make residential and commercial buildings greener and more at home in the environment.”

“How do you take the benefits of nature and put those into a building and actually have them sustain themselves?” Bureaux asks. “We’ve had to be pioneers in the use of that technology because of the uniqueness of the environment in which we operate here in Nova Scotia.”

It’s also training for the emerging tech sector. One aspect will be creative people working in the gaming industry, IT and communications and a second will be the engineering technologists who service the future infrastructure connecting mobile phones, BlackBerries and satellite television. “That technology is changing so rapidly that our technology programs are going to be getting those types of jobs tomorrow,” Bureaux says. “We’re absolutely locked with industry. It’s sitting down with those industry partners who are being faced right now with those problems for which they have no human-resource solutions and saying, ‘These are the business problems you’re facing. What type of skill sets do you need clustered together in a single human being?’”

The “nimble” college has a better-than 90 per cent placement rate and a 94 per cent satisfaction rate among employers, showing their crystal ball skills are strong. If it’s right this time, Nova Scotia’s looking at a bright, green, innovative future based on brains and businesses grown right out of the province’s fertile soil. By Jon Tattrie (See Anchor Tenant and Standing on Higher Ground for more stories on Nova Scotia’s industrial strengths.)

Taking Care of Beezness

Moncton chef saving bees, making honey for hotel guests

There’s a buzz these days around the Delta Beauséjour in Moncton. For starters, Chef Stefan Mueller and his culinary team feature a seasonal 100 Mile Menu in the Windjammer – an elegant four diamond restaurant.

Impressed with the food selection and quality available in the region, Mueller jumped on the local bandwagon last year and successfully introduced the 100 Mile Menu. It features everything from locally raised boar, buffalo and wild rice to award-winning cheeses. But this year he went a step further.

On the rooftop of the hotel there’s a new herb garden, replete with a bee hive. “The bee population is declining,” says Chef. “This is one way we can help. And the bees are happy with all the wildflowers next to the river.” The honey will be used in the Windjammer and will also be offered as welcome gifts for special guests. By: Sandra Phinney

Best Big Idea

Innovative Halifax entrepreneur wins $10,000

A product that allows businesses to safely share confidential documents electronically has won Nova Scotia’s first ever Best Big Idea Competition. Milan Vrekic, owner of Mojo Labs, was awarded $10,000 after judges determined his TitanFile system was the best entrepreneurial idea of 118 submitted.

The competition was launched last August by the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council in partnership with the Department of Community Services, Affirmative Industries and the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network. It was designed to showcase the province’s best entrepreneurial ideas, particularly encouraging entries from women, persons with disabilities, young people and immigrants.

Vrekic, a Serbian immigrant employed in the computer services industry until setting out on his own, says his effort to develop TitanFile stalled after he was unable to secure financing. With the prize money, he says he will be able to complete the project and have it market ready in just a few months.

The system encrypts data and provides the end-user with a digital key. The owner of the information is notified when the file has been opened. After the information has been viewed, both the owner and the end user have the option of deleting the information completely.

Other finalists in the competition were Responsible Solutions Safety Consultant, an Upper Sackvile firm developing safety systems for the construction industry; and Cyber, a Lunenburg firm working with the Truro Police Department to develop an online interactive video to educate young people on the dangers of internet activity and cyber-bullying.

Dianne Kelderman, CEO of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, says the number of entries exceeded expectations, proving the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Nova Scotia. While only Mojo Labs was the overall winner, Ms. Kelderman said the Co-op Council is committed to following up with all 118 entrants and work with them to move their business ideas forward.

Turning Up the Heat

PEI company tests high-pressure food processor

Thanks to $25,000 from the Innovation PEI Pilot Fund, Charlottetown Metal Products (CMP) has completed initial testing of their prototype high-pressure steam food processor.

The funding, as well as a partnership with the Food Technology Centre, allowed CMP to conduct processing trials using their steam processor prototype. The Centre tested a variety of fruits, vegetables and seafood to assess the performance and suitability of the processor for different food types. The types of processing procedures included in these tests were peeling, blanching and cooking shellfish, and canning seafood meat. The tests concluded that the prototype steam processor displayed clear advantages in peeling fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes and apples, as well as in cooking various seafood including shrimp and mussels.

“With the help of Innovation PEI and the Food Technology Centre, we were able to conduct early stage, third party testing on our steam processor and obtain the data we needed to move to commercial scale production,” said Steve Kelley, president of Charlottetown Metal Products.

“The purpose of the Pilot Fund is to provide the seed capital our companies need to prove the viability of their products and test high-risk ideas,” says Minister Allan Campbell, Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning. “I am pleased to see positive results coming from this program and that our local companies are continuing to develop highly innovative products. Charlottetown Metal Products has an excellent track record in designing food processing equipment and I hope they will have continued success with their steam processor.”

Cutline: Innovation and Advanced Learning Minister Allan Campbell (left) and CMP president Steve Kelley (right) discuss CMP’s newly developed processing equipment.

Upward Trend

Increased marketing, historic location credited for rising enrolment

According to the Association of Atlantic Universities, regional universities experienced rising enrolments in graduate and undergraduate programs. Fourteen of the AAU’s 17 member institutions reported increases ranging from 0.8 to 6.3 per cent.

While the trend is encouraging, Dr. Robert Campbell, president, Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB) and chair, AAU, said in a published statement that regional demographics continue to be a challenge. “Our universities must continue to work hard at being nationally and internationally competitive, by doing so we provide outstanding learning environments for our students and a prosperous economic future for Atlantic Canada and its communities.”

Off the Ground

Province allocates $5-million for Air Access Strategy

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has released a five-year plan, Taking Flight, with the stated intention of enhancing “Newfoundland and Labrador’s air transportation access by working collaboratively with airports and other partners in supporting their efforts to attract new flights and spur demand”.

“Newfoundland and Labrador continues to be a hub of economic activity and a magnet for investment and people, and with growth comes greater demand for transportation access,” said Ross Wiseman, Minister of Business in a published statement. “Through this Air Access Strategy, we are demonstrating a long-term commitment to enhancing air access, with a vision of providing more people with more choice for air travel to, from and within Newfoundland and Labrador.”

To help get the message out that airports in Newfoundland and Labrador are open for business, the provincial government will partner with regional airport authorities to actively promote their capabilities and the province directly to airlines. The strategy also puts emphasis on continuing to brand and market Newfoundland and Labrador as a destination of choice for business and tourism.

A key component of Taking Flight is the establishment of a new Air Access Development Program. More than $4-million will be made available to airlines and the province’s airports to support business development and route promotion activities. A private industry advisory committee consisting of representatives of regional airports, business associations and other groups will be established to provide ongoing input into implementation of the strategy as part of a focused, coordinated approach to air access development.

To help implement and oversee Taking Flight, a director of Air Access will be hired. The person in this newly created role will also be responsible for industry research and support, administering the Air Access Development Program, providing advice to the provincial government on air access related issues and regularly reporting on the progress of the strategy.

“Air transportation is a cornerstone to economic and business development in Newfoundland and Labrador and we are pleased to see the government supporting the further development of air service,” stated Keith Collins, president of Atlantic Canada Airports Association and CEO of the St. John’s International Airport, in response to the announcement. “Aviation is of vital importance to business, tourism and trade and the cost competitiveness of our aviation sector is key to any successful strategy.”

Are You at Risk?

Survey says 69 per cent of Canadian small businesses saw some kind of cyber attack last year

The Business Development Bank of Canada’s 2010 SMB survey shows that while Canadian businesses rank well above the international average when it comes to the security of their electronic information, security should still be a significant concern. Well over half of those surveyed say they experienced some form of cyber attack in 2009.

What can you do? EDUCATE EMPLOYEES: Develop Internet security guidelines and educate employees about Internet safety, security, and the latest threats.  Part of the training should focus on the importance of regularly changing passwords and protecting mobile devices.

SAFEGUARD IMPORTANT BUSINESS INFORMATION: Businesses are facing increased risks to their confidential information so safeguarding this data is critical.  One data breach could mean financial ruin for an SMB. Implement a complete protection solution to ensure proprietary information — whether it’s credit card information, customer data or employee records — is safe.

IMPLEMENT AN EFFECTIVE BACKUP AND RECOVERY PLAN: Protecting information is more than implementing an antivirus solution.  Backup and recovery is a critical component of complete information protection to keep businesses’ desktops, servers and applications running smoothly in case of disruption — whether it’s a flood, an earthquake, a virus or a system failure.  One outage could mean customer dissatisfaction and costly downtime, which could be catastrophic to the business.

SECURE EMAIL AND WEB ASSETS: Select a mail and Web security solution that can help mitigate spam and email threats.  Spammers and phishers will use current events and social engineering tactics to get users to give up personal information such as credit card and banking information. This will protect sensitive information and allow businesses to spend more time on day-to-day activities.

Source: Symantec

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