Diversity the strength of Victoria tech sector

Diversity the strength of Victoria tech sector

Large job cuts across the high-tech sector in the U.S. last year seem to have been confined to below the 49th parallel, according to Victoria’s technology insiders.

The local tech scene maintains it is still riding high. Last year, the Victoria Advanced Technology Council released a study showing the industry’s annual revenue had grown to $3.15 billion with an economic impact of about $4 billion and employing about 20,000.

Dan Gunn, executive director of the council, said a mid-year survey of the top-25 local tech firms showed they had grown 20 per cent compared with 2013, and that seems to be on the menu for 2015.

“Our expectation is some companies will definitely have a dip, some will have a surge and the dance continues,” said Gunn. “But we are diverse enough as a sector that we are not so invested in one sub-sector that when something goes wrong we get decimated. That diversity is one of our secret strengths.”

Gunn also noted VIATeC’s job board has postings for 66 positions, a standard number for this time of year.

That stands in contrast to what seems to have happened in the U.S.

A study from international human resources firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that the technology sector in the U.S. cut more than 100,000 jobs last year, a 77 per cent increase from the 56,918 in 2013.

According to the survey, the biggest hit came in the computer industry at firms such as Microsoft and Hewlett Packard, which trimmed their rosters by nearly 60,000 people. “Oddly, the technology sector was among the stronger segments of the economy in 2014 and is likely to be a source for continued growth and job creation in 2015. However, we did see several large-scale layoff announcements from tech giants,” said the firm’s chief executive John Challenger.

Victoria tech-industry veteran Scott Phillips, president of Starfish Medical, said he certainly hasn’t seen a downcycle in the sector. “In terms of what’s happening locally, some do well and some don’t, but it’s hard to tie that together to a global trend. I have not been hearing that any firms locally have been having trouble getting investment or that they are failing in their endeavours,” he said.

Starfish, which engineers medical devices, recently increased its product development group by more than 30 per cent.

Phillips said that may not be an indication of what’s happening in the product manufacturing sector, but rather a sign that the medical devices sector is continuing to invest to meet demand driven by an aging demographic, new U.S. healthcare systems and China’s ability to supply materials.

Victoria’s gaming sector also appears to be stable. Gaming blossomed in 2014 into a $24-million industry with 19 studios employing 240 people. “It’s really a mixed bag from my perspective with respect to teams growing or shrinking, but nothing that I would say is really out of the ordinary,” said Tim Teh, chief executive of KanoApps. “We saw four game launches in November, so there is definitely activity within the studios. When I head to different studio websites, I see open job postings on most of them.”

Teh said when there have been layoffs at local studios the talent is often picked up by rivals.

Doug Pelton, CEO of Priologic, also sees growth continuing.

Pelton said paying wages and developing products in a weakening Canadian dollar and selling software services into the U.S. translates into healthy bottom lines for companies like his. “We have been suffering for the last four or five years because of the exchange rate and that’s now improving, we are in a much better position to sell into the U.S.,” he said, adding that could mean companies like his will ramp up in 2015 and 2016.


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