Goldstream News Gazette
G.E. Mortimore
Feburary 05. 2003

Victoria could be two years away from a multi-million-dollar economic breakthrough that would make it Silicon Valley North. 

That thought jumps into mind on a tour of Vancouver Island Technology Park in the upgraded high-tech, energy-efficient building that used to be Glendale Lodge hospital, next to the Interurban campus of Camosun College. 

Dale Gann, the technology park's marketing manager, refrains from wild forecasts, but he knows for sure about one future event in the domain where scientists, engineers, technicians and managers from inventive leading-edge companies do their work. A major new tenant company, whose name he is not yet ready to disclose, will soon move into this globally-connected information headquarters set in 35 acres of trees, grass and woodland trails. 

So far there are only 135 workers in a building that was retrofitted under the auspices of the BCBC to house 800, but the numbers continue to grow steadily, even though high-tech enterprises have suffered a world-wide setback. The building is expected to reach the half-way mark this year, and, depending on the outcome of a sales campaign, which included a journey to San Francisco led by Premier Gordon Campbell, it could reach capacity by 2005. 

Then it could launch the build-out of five new buildings still on the drawing board, scheduled to radiate from the present core, swelling the work force to an eventual 2,500. 

The new tenant, like the seven companies already settled in the technology park, was drawn there by six kinds of attractions: 

First, the chance to trade ideas over lunch in the centre's Hard-Drive Café, or at meetings in the conference rooms, with neighbours who represent a universe of knowledge and invention. 

Second, the modern data networking and telecommunications backbone. It includes an Internet-connected phone system. 

Third, happy green surroundings, (woods, trails, basketball courts, gymnasium) offering a chance to relax, enjoy and stay in good physical shape ­ a drawing-point for "footloose" companies that can settle anywhere they please. 

Fourth, the social and academic context: two nearby universities and a college, to provide labour and brainpower. 

Fifth, low office expense. 

Sixth, stretchable, reserved-in-advance space to expand, if the tenant wants it. "There's nothing like this anywhere in B.C.," Dale Gann acknowledged. "The nearest I know is the Microsoft campus in Washington." 

Vancouver Island Technology Park continues to recruit tenant companies that are damage-proofed against the global high-tech decline by smart management, superior talent and shrewd appraisal of future markets. 

Examples include the following:

Epic Biosonics, Inc., of which the chief executive officer is Peter Baillie, former Victoria Times Colonist publisher ­ a company formed by entrepreneur Peter Berrang and retired ear-nose-and- throat surgeon Alan Lupin to develop a total inner-ear implant with no external parts, and connect the world of sound to the auditory nerve in people with deep hearing loss. 

The company is also doing early-stage research on other electrical nerve-pathways that convey sensory messages to the brain and on those that modulate brain blood-vessels, for possible treatment of strokes.

JASCO Research Ltd., a company with a world reputation for manufacture of oceanographic measurement and underwater acoustic monitoring instruments, and development of specialized scientific and data-management software. 

Among other activities, JASCO is ready to take part in the VENUS and NEPTUNE projects, shared by UVic and the University of Washington, which will create far-spread sea-bottom observatories served by networks of cables and robot vehicles. JASCO proposes to provide expertise in areas that range from design and engineering of custom subsea instrumentation to advanced data-processing.

Omega Biotech Corporation, which is tuned in to the burgeoning world market for antioxidants, shown to possess health-protecting, life-extending properties. Omega extracts one of these compounds, its own brand-named grape-seed powder, Protovin, from the seeds of grapes grown near Mt. St. Helens in Washington, which were chosen because of their content drawn from nutrient-rich volcanic-ash soils following the 1980 eruption.

Aspreva Pharmaceuticals Corporation, which is researching the development of medicines for a number of rare disorders, a niche by-passed by the larger drug companies.

Silver Lake Contractors' Ltd., which works on large-scale software-service contracts for governments in Canada and the United States.

Headquarters of Municipal Software Corporation, which will take over 10,000 of the centre's 190,000 square feet, to serve clients in five provinces and 29 states.

Etraffic Solutions Inc., a designer of electronic learning programs ranging from interactive language-learning to an online data-base for school administrators. Their brilliance is summed up in one of the company's introductory paragraphs: "It's all about creating the teachable moment. Learning that engages the learner to be curious and to further investigate. Message combined with stunning visual design. Customized content, online modules, software tailored to your needs. Unique programs along with messaging materials so your learners can clearly understand what to learn and how to learn it." 

John Juricic of Etraffic solutions told a reporter that pleasant and stimulating surroundings had boosted the company¹s productivity 30 per cent since it moved in. 

The technology park's planned high-tech growth in this leafy part of Saanich offers inspiration for parallel growth in Victoria's Western Communities ­ provided they can resist the temptation to sprawl and pave the green spaces over. The vision might include such environmental technologies as wastewater recycling, plus visitor trade in compact communities along rail corridors, with convention centres and an Imax theatre.