Saskatchewan: Austin North?

The world is changing, and technology is driving that change. Silicon Valley and the San Francisco area have long been considered the hot bed of new technology—but in recent years, Austin, Texas, has exploded onto the world scene and is now considered one of the top places for start-up companies.1

New ideas in technology, fresh company perspectives and access to the global economy are combining in Austin. Companies are taking advantage of reasonably priced real estate and intriguing tax incentives to take root and begin to grow. Established companies are moving their offices to benefit from the pool of talent and access to capital. Conditions are perfect in Austin to see huge, sustainable growth in all areas—tourism, education, entertainment and this growth is happening through their fostering of the tech industry.

Technology is driving nearly every industry in some way now—and in ways we may never have imagined. Some of the most successful companies in the world today didn’t even exist a few short years ago. Billion dollar companies have cornered markets in mind-blowing ways and record-breaking time. Uber and Lyft have changed the way people view taxis and public transit. Airbnb has changed the way people travel and stay around the world. Who could have predicted that some of the world’s largest accommodation and transport companies would have neither real estate nor vehicles?

The tech industry is driving real change, and change offers huge opportunity. The city of Austin is taking advantage of the reasonable cost of living, a large pool of skilled workers, and offering generous cash incentives to companies in return for creating jobs and relocating offices to the area—and Saskatchewan could do the same.

Saskatchewan people are born and raised to do more with less. Hard work is in the fabric of our province. Our wide-open spaces foster imagination and our harsh climate encourages community. We have two universities and a polytechnic, plus several regional colleges. We’ve got a growing, skilled workforce. The city of Austin, Texas has nearly the population of Saskatchewan. It’s no surprise that they have been able to create a thriving industry by applying incentives and taking advantage of the natural gifts their city has—ample space, access to universities, and a workforce of passionate people.

Sound familiar?

Saskatchewan has incredible talent, and with the nature of the internet, the ability to import what it needs and export what it has—and the results are starting to show. Start-ups getting on the radar in Silicon Valley, and they’re opening minds to the possibility that this province has the potential to directly contribute to technology. Recent Saskatchewan start-ups like Coconut Calendar and 7Shifts are joining the ranks of Skip the Dishes, Vendasta and Gas Buddy—Saskatchewan tech companies making national (and international) headlines.

Saskatchewan needs to invest in tech if we want to compete, even in the face of some negativity. In 2016, Skip The Dishes made headlines when it was offered provincial money as an incentive to grow their Saskatoon work force. The money in question—$1 million per year over three years if their workforce was expanded by 200 permanent jobs—was never actually used. Skip The Dishes never cashed their first cheque and in late 2016 they sold to a British company for $110 million. Will they now continue growing the Saskatchewan economy? Or contribute to the British bottom line? We’ll see. However, they have proven that Saskatchewan has what it takes to compete in technology at an international level—and that we need to capture the talent and opportunity presented before it’s gone.

Examining programs available in areas that have seen success in the tech industry seems like a smart move. While Saskatchewan continues to protect, and grow traditional areas of economic strength—we also need to seriously consider the impact that tech has on virtually every aspect of the modern economy. Thomas Archer, executive director of SaskInteractive believes “the province has the talent, infrastructure, educational support and true grit to grow the industry and become leaders.”

The tech industry in Saskatchewan is waking up to the advantages the province offers, and is reaching out to the world. The tech sector here is perfectly positioned to make large moves—it will be interesting to see what industry and government continue to do to foster that growth. This comparison prepared by Derek Murray Consulting & Associates for the Sask Interactive Media Association, shows how Saskatchewan’s provincial incentive programs stack up against programs offered across the country.

(Courtesy Derek Murray Consulting& Associates, January 2016)

The people of Saskatchewan have the talent and vision here to create great things. Time will tell if that creation happens here—and could be heavily influenced by properly preparing the province to foster innovation at home.

1Tech Startups Weigh The Merits Of Austin Vs. Silicon Valley, Forbes Magazine,