Tech hubs taking root outside Metro Vancouver

Pandemic driving some B.C. tech workers away from pricey Lower Mainland region

Traction on Demand CEO and founder Greg Malpass bought the building housing the Legion in Nelson to house a new satellite office within the B.C. community | Alison Orton

A typical commute for Glenn Bindley once consisted of frequent trips from his West Vancouver home to his company’s headquarters on Vancouver Island, overseeing Redlen Technologies Inc.’s advances in semiconductor manufacturing.

“Prior to a pandemic, for 18 years, I spent two days every week religiously over there at the plant,” said the CEO of the Saanichton-based chipmaker.

Outside of Metro Vancouver, the province’s undisputed technology capital, Bindley said he’s witnessed “an explosion of these smallish, 50-person companies that are below the radar.”

As the global hunt for tech talent intensifies amid the pandemic, smaller tech hubs around the province are poised to serve as a draw for workers – remote or otherwise – seeking shelter from Vancouver’s high costs.

“There really is a very, very, very strong tech scene in Victoria,” said Bindley, whose company signed an acquisition deal with Canon Inc. (TYO:7751) earlier this month that values Redlen at just north of $400 million.

The company now has the support of Canon – which was already a strategic investor – to pursue a $40 million plan to double its 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility just outside of downtown Victoria. The West Coast company will also be expanding its head count to 450 workers from 200 workers by 2025 as it hires experts in everything from automation to product engineering.

“In many respects, it’s easier to bring people into Victoria than it is to Vancouver because there is a little bit of an advantage in terms of cost of living,” Bindley said.

On the other side of the province, Traction on Demand (Traction Sales and Marketing Inc.) is taking a different approach to building tech hubs beyond Metro Vancouver.

The Burnaby-based company, which specializes in Inc. (NYSE:CRM) consulting and app development, employs about 500 workers in the province and opened a satellite office in Nelson over the summer.

Traction on Demand CEO and founder Greg Malpass bought the Nelson Legion building back in 2018, and the company renovated the top two floors to suit an office that could hold around 100 workers. Ten people are based there, while the Legion still operates downstairs.

Traction chief of staff Megumi Mizuno said the company had asked its employees what they thought of the opportunity to work outside the main hub in Metro Vancouver prior to building the Nelson office.

“Several of them expressed an interest to go work in smaller communities with more affordable housing” and shorter commutes, she said.

“We don’t see there being a big shift back to major centres again like pre-pandemic. So creating these small hubs helps the economy in those smaller towns.”

While Alphabet Inc.’s (Nasdaq:GOOGL) Google workers were told that their pay would be reduced if they left the notoriously expensive San Francisco Bay Area to work remotely in less expensive markets, current Traction employees won’t face that challenge, according to Mizuno.

Ultimately, the company is hoping its model can draw other tech companies to the area.

“Obviously there’s competition between tech companies for great talent, but there’s enough people out in the world that … why can’t everyone be successful?” said Mizuno.