— Downtown Edmonton Community League Update —

Tech Sector hanging on

With Edmonton’s sixth annual Startup Week less than a month away, the city’s tech industries are maintaining cautious optimism about keeping their momentum in spite of a tax credit being frozen recently by the province.

Downtown Edmonton Community League president Chris Buyze noted office vacancies decreased in the first half of 2019.

“The vacancy rate is actually lower downtown than it is in other parts of the city right now,” he said.

Growth in the tech sector surged in Edmonton over the past few years with heavy support from all three levels of government, but the city’s roadmap to the future has hit a few bumps of late.

Last October, city council paused both the Innovation Hub in the new Enbridge tower and plans to establish an Innovation Corridor between NAIT and the University of Alberta. Then in August the UCP government froze the Alberta investor tax credit , pending a financial review. The NDP program was launched in 2017 to help get new businesses off the ground. However, Buyze said so far the sector has weathered the disruptions.

“Ironically, it seems downtown is still attracting investment in tech startups. A lot of the private investment is going ahead regardless of what’s happening at the provincial government level and I think that’s going to continue to be the case.”

Chris Buyze, DECL President

However, he also cautioned pulling the tax credit permanently could hinder new startups, create uncertainty and slow growth.

“We have this private investment. Why is there a possibility of withdrawal of tax credits in the provincial government?”

StartupBlink, a Swiss company that ranks cities for their startup-friendliness, named Edmonton 95th in the world in its 2019 Global Ranking of Startup Ecosystems, up 35 spots from 2017 and surging past Calgary, which dropped from 108th place to 111th. Edmonton is home to nearly 400 tech companies and the University of Alberta is counted among the best A.I. research facilities in the world.

Buyze added another benefit making downtown more startup-friendly has been a jump in renovations of older office space to attract new tenants and retain their current ones.

“We’ve got a lot of capital investments, we’ve just got to make sure we’re also doing the little things like keeping it a clean, safe and welcoming place for people to work, invest in or even live,” said Buyze. “We’re competing with jurisdictions across the world. How do we ensure the talent coming out of our universities stays here?”

Noting Edmonton has a much more diverse economy than Calgary already, Buyze said it was important to continue to push for more economic drivers than simply oil and gas.

“(A stronger tech sector) would poke some holes in that boom and bust cycle we sometimes experience.”

Startup Week runs from Oct. 21 to 25, with the city’s 10th annual Launch Day set for Oct. 24.

Offering over 50 workshops for entrepreneurs alongside networking and brainstorming opportunities, Startup Week is the extension of Launch Party, a celebration of innovation in its 10th year.