Renovations are underway in the Chamber of Commerce building in the restored CP Rail station to house the new Nelson Innovation Centre.
“It’s a great marriage of heritage and high tech,” said Cam Whitehead, the executive director of the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST), as he described the project to city council Monday.
He was there to ask council for a $50,000 grant for the project.
The centre will be a hub for Nelson’s tech sector, which Whitehead says already consists of hundreds of people.
“It will be a physical presence,” Whitehead said. “Nelson’s tech sector is often hidden in second floors and back alleys.”
He said the tech centre, next to the city’s visitor centre, will connect businesses to funding and workers. It will link workers with employment supports, training, and jobs.
“It is about offering a space to deliver business development supports and skills-training programs,” Whitehead told council. “To take ideas to the start-up phase, to incorporation, to growth, to exports. It is about commercializing ideas.
Whitehead told council the B.C. tech sector employs more people than mining, forestry and oil/gas combined.
“Also it will be a community-building facility, so it will have events and activities. The purpose is to be a catalyst, a conduit, to connect people and businesses to support they need.”
The innovation centre is a project of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership, with KAST as project manager and Community Futures Central Kootenay as fundraiser.
KAST is a non-profit society whose main activity in the past few years has been the development of MIDAS, an applied research, commercialization and digital fabrication training facility in Trail that focuses on manufacturing technologies including 3D printing.
The budget for the first year of Phase 1 of the Nelson Innovation Centre is $171,000, of which $120,000 has been raised.
The $50,000 requested of council would be used to fund staffing and administration.
Phase 2, in which the centre would expand into a larger adjacent space at the station, will be developed as funding is acquired, Whitehead said.
He told council the project aims to provide high-paying jobs for Nelson’s youth.
“The great thing about tech jobs is they pay 40 per cent more than an average industry wage,” he said. “Entry level can be around $50,000 or $60,000.
“There are a lot of remote workers in Nelson already that are looking to connect, collaborate, find peers. It is a great pitch to Silicon Valley companies, to have a developer working here. They can pay them in Canadian — that is an immediate discount — and they can work and live here. If you can make $100,000 or $150,000 here, that is the vision.”
Mayor John Dooley admitted he is a bit behind the times when it comes to the tech sector, but he thinks much of the public is even more in the dark and he said he hopes KAST can properly explain this to people.
“When I was campaigning I went to an office where a tech person was working on stream mitigation,” said Dooley. “Tech is involved in so many different things. I wonder if that ever gets explained to people. It is an amazing area of opportunity in so many sectors.”
Council made no decision about the funding request, which will be incorporated into its current ongoing discussions about the 2019 city budget.