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City partnership gets provincial grant infusion to begin operation of Nelson Innovation Centre

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
June 13th, 2017

The city is about to get a technological power surge with the establishment of an innovation centre, after recently receiving a provincial grant that helps establish rural economies.

The City of Nelson and the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership (NAEDP) received $80,000 in Rural Dividend Funds from the Province of B.C. towards development of a Nelson Innovation Centre (NIC), according to the NAEDP minutes from March 8.

The NIC project concept is an entrepreneurship-focused business “incubator” with a focus on growing the technology sector. The centre will attempt to strengthen Nelson’s position as a regional leader of digital innovation and entrepreneurship, but also help create technology and “knowledge” workers through education and training.

A note in the NAEDP March 8 minutes said technology company Retreat Guru has already completed the engineering, design and staffing of an innovation centre in Nelson.

“(I)t makes more sense to partner with Retreat Guru and expedite the project by almost a year. It is not clear if the ministry will let the city change the project so drastically,” read a briefing in the minutes.

NIC representatives from the NAEDP will be meeting with Retreat Guru, as well as technology company Thought Exchange, Kootenay Association for Science and Technology and the province to discuss its next steps and to determine a physical location.

The NAEDP is a partnership between the City of Nelson, Community Futures Central Kootenay, the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s areas E and F. The partnership’s goal is holistic approach to community economic development initiatives for the region.

In 2015 the NAEDP specifically targeted the growth of a digital economy by using the best practices identified by the Intelligent Community Forum. The Intelligent Community Forum is a global network with a think tank at its centre, connecting hundreds of cities and regions on five continents for collaboration on economic development and for exchange of expertise and information.

A “Strategic Doing” workshop was held in February, 2016 in Nelson that invited “thinkers” and “doers” in the community to identify projects to move the city towards being recognized as an Intelligent Community.

The one idea that emerged out of the workshop — via a project group — was the notion of an innovation centre for the city’s growing technology sector.

As a result, the group began research on best practices for such a centre and developed a project concept along with a feasibility study that included stakeholder engagement and data analysis to determine the viability of an innovation centre, as well as recommendations for next steps based on the project concept.

The feasibility study identified that the assets — including an entrepreneurial culture, an educated and creative workforce and broad community support — were in place in the city for an innovation centre to be successful.

Other assets identified in the study included a strong business and regional industry base, the physical infrastructure for a centre, extensive business development resources and programs as well as government support.

The centre is ultimately envisioned to be the impetus for growth for technology businesses, including start-ups, and will help retain and attract technology companies and workers.

The physical space of the centre — although it has not yet been chosen — will include anchor tenants, a co-working space, programs and services, events and “other assets as identified to meet client needs and to ensure the sustainability of the NIC.”

The centre is expected to hire a manager soon — after a May 25 closing date for the position — in order to set up the physical centre site, as well as conducting a client need analysis to understand client needs in terms of physical space, programs and services both of tenants and community at large.

The manager will also be building the centre’s connections with both federal and provincial levels of government, and developing a business plan and financial feasibility assessment for the next three years to ensure the sustainability of the NIC.

The BC Rural Dividend provides $25 million a year over four years to assist rural communities with a population of 25,000 or less to reinvigorate and diversify their local economies.

Intelligent Communities

Nelson did not make the cut for the final seven Intelligent Communities in the world, but the tiny heritage city made the Smart21 in the world for 2017.

The city was in the running in the annual Intelligent Community Forum contest — which has gone on since 2002 — down to the wire along with six other Canadian communities, but only Edmonton and Grey County, Ont. made the top seven in the world.

Based on Intelligent Community index questionnaires submitted by communities large and small from around the world, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) selected 21 finalists, including Nelson, with the potential to become one of the Forum’s Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year.

“Gaining a place among the year’s Smart21 is considered a badge of honor as well as the first step to greater recognition as an Intelligent Community positioned to prosper in the broadband economy,” read the Intelligent Community.orgwebsite.

The ICF used an analytic method to select the T7. Each Smart21 community was invited to complete a detailed questionnaire based on the ICF’s intelligent community indicators, as well as an annual theme.

According to the ICF, an international academic team of analysts reviews the questionnaires, scores each one on dozens of factors, and produces a quantitative ranking of the candidates, with the seven highest ranking candidates become Top7 Intelligent Communities. 

Communities chosen for the Smart21 and the Top7 are “not the most advanced technology centers, the most wired cities or the fastest growing economies in the world,” but exemplify best practices in broadband deployment and use, workforce development, innovation, digital inclusion and advocacy.

“They are charting new paths to lasting prosperity for their citizens, businesses and institutions,” read the ICF’s website.

According to the March 6 minutes, the NAEDP is paying the Intelligent Community Forum $1,500 to create a customized report on how Nelson compared to the other communities in the contest.

The Intelligent Community Forum is a global network of cities and regions with a think tank at its center. Its mission is to help communities use information and communications technology (ICT) to create inclusive prosperity, tackle social and governance challenges and enrich their quality of life.


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