As a member of New Westminster Council, I attended the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Ottawa last week. This is my third year on Council, but my first opportunity to attend FCM. It was a busy time, and I haven’t had time to write blogs about it, but I thought I would spend a post or three sharing a few highlight moments from 4 days of learning and networking.
We were fortunate to open the event with a personal tour of the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards. This is an example of a tech business incubator and network hub. An old industrial building (originally a bus storage and repair terminal) has been converted into a comfortable and lively space where tech startups can share resources and, have direct access to mentors, funding agencies, and angel investors.
Ottawa is a unique place when it comes to “tech clusters”: the golden egg-laying goose of every region’s economic plan. Much like Silicon Valley, Ottawa had the right combination of highly trained workforce (a legacy of government research labs, Bell Laboratories, and Nortel), a couple of nearby engineering universities, and access to senior government investors to encourage R&D investment. However, even with all of this, it wasn’t until amalgamation of the 30+ communities that made up greater Ottawa that they started to do economic development in a coordinated regional manner – under the branding of “Invest Ottawa”.
The Innovation Centre model operates on Federal and Provincial grant money, and has a well developed mentorship and growth model for start-ups. They travel the world shopping for start-ups, and have a comprehensive screening system to assure applicants selected are those with the best chance at development, and even then not many more than 10% actually grow into a viable business that grows out of the hub (or, more likely, becomes and idea that a larger company buys from the start-up). Still, the return of investment from that small proportion easily created value that outstrips the cost of the facility.
We had a lengthy discussion with the general manager, and there was much to learn that was relevant to New Westminster’s IDEA Centre concept, and to how we support and foster tech industries in Greater Vancouver. Not the l east, we need to get past our parochial model of economic development (as you may have heard Greg Moore discussing at this year’s Innovation Week Leadership forum): . Only so much foreign investment out there, we will get swamped unless we lead together. This is a conversation we are planning to continue as we plan next year’s Innovation Week and continue to develop the IDEA Centre.
During the FCM, I also attended sessions discussing the building of municipal infrastructure, and how to integrate low-carbon energy systems and environmental resiliency into our design and development process for new buildings. There was a discussion of the many “sustainability” rating systems for new infrastructure, from LEED to Passive House and Envision, and how to determine which of the 8 or 9 common rating systems meets the goals of your project, and the needs of your community. The new North Shore Waste Water Treatment Plant was used as an example of a well-designed review process for rating systems, and a detailed explanation of how the Envision system works for large public infrastructure (where most others are designed for typical residential or commercial buildings).
As New Westminster is in a pretty serious infrastructure-building phase (with the new Animal Shelter, Canada Games Pool, District Energy Centre infrastructure, and potential IDEA Centre and Arenex replacement structures), we have already been discussing a review of our existing policy requiring LEED rating for our new buildings, making this comprehensive discussion apropos.
On the same day I attended talks on improved Pavement Management Systems work being done at Carelton, and the Smart City Challenge and FCM Innovation network funding opportunities while networking with leaders from communities across Canada learning about their challenges and ideas for making their organizations work better. It was interesting to learn how Milton, Ontario is managing extremely fast growth, and their challenges in funding infrastructure with a very tax-adverse populace, while also learning how the smaller communities are trying to keep up with changing municipal needs as senior government funding seems harder and harder to find.
I also managed to squeeze in a tour of the Parliament led by the Hardest Working MP in Canada, who was an excellent host and entertaining tour guide!
to be continued…