Brian Fry was a Rossland tech entrepreneur who was looking to bring his latest tech-based enterprise to life. Pilar Portela was the CEO of a tech company in Kelowna and fell in love with the Basin area. Columbia Basin Trust was initiating a new approach to how it supports economic development in the Columbia Basin.
The intersection of these three resulted in the Trust purchasing a large commercial building in the Waneta Industrial Park in Trail. Here, Fry and Portela, along with business partner Tim Dufour, established i4C Innovation.
Rather than producing items of its own, i4C Innovation runs a hub for businesses involved in the “Industrial Internet of Things.” To create their smart machines and associated technologies, these companies need high-tech facilities, and that’s where i4C is stepping in. In the new, Trust-owned building, i4C has created research and development rooms, high-tech labs and office spaces. Plus it offers business support services to help resident companies find success. It is now actively enticing high-tech businesses to move in and take advantage of this great new space.
Two months after leasing the building from the Trust, i4C had attracted two new tech businesses to the facility, creating five local jobs and five telecommuting ones. Fry anticipates the building will be 50 percent full with 15 to 20 jobs within its first year.
“We are moving quickly,” Portela says. “This area could see a cluster of tech companies. We want to be in front of economic development and help diversify the economy.”
“There is such an opportunity to work in tandem with communities and leverage what they know and what the businesses in our hub can offer.”
“At the Trust, our approach to economic development is to help create opportunities that translate into actions, which then translate into jobs and growth,” says Johnny Strilaeff, Columbia Basin Trust President and Chief Executive Officer. “Working with people who are bringing their ideas to life is a great example of what we can achieve when we collaborate towards a common goal. Technology is evolving so quickly, and here we have the brightest minds and people who are trying to make our economy grow at the same lightning pace.
“It’s fascinating. It’s collaborative. It’s energizing. It shows how bringing all the right pieces together can advance economic development.”
The i4C hub is just one of the ways the Trust has supported high-tech development in the Trail area and elsewhere. It supported the MIDAS training facility in Trail; founded in 2016, this lab helps businesses and individuals research and manufacture product prototypes, among other services. The Trust brought high-speed Internet to Trail, and continues to expand it throughout the Basin. In May 2017, the Trust participated in the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation’s launch of a new economic development marketing program called Metal Tech Alley.
Economic development is a priority across the Basin. With this in mind, the Trust created a new economic development strategic framework in 2016 and allocated $20 million over three years to put it into action. This is enabling the Trust to take a more proactive role in growing the Basin’s economy.
Fry notes that no start-up would be able to purchase a building like the one in the Waneta Industrial Park, so the Trust’s support was vital. Portela adds that they had to locate such a hub where people are already in the right trades and professions—such as metallurgical professionals and data scientists—and that Trail already had this because of existing businesses like Teck and ATCO. Access to the Trail airport was also important.
“We want to show the Basin how to take advantage of this high-tech work,” says Fry. “Pilar researched towns and cities in the Basin and how these tech innovations can strengthen them. There is such an opportunity to work in tandem with communities and leverage what they know and what the businesses in our hub can offer.”
Portela adds: “We see i4C beyond a private business, where economic development across a region can achieve more than anyone on their own. This will be a success because of all the partnerships.”
“Because of the technology and the Trust’s investment in high-speed Internet, there are no limitations,” Fry says.
“It’s a global vision.”