Fast Facts on BC's Tech Sector

February 29, 2016
Jock Finlayson

The BC government’s recently released Tech Strategy 2016 highlights the growth of the province’s dynamic advanced technology sector. Tech is a good news story for BC – a story that we expect to continue. The province enjoys strengths in several different technology-based clusters – software and information and communications technologies; wireless technologies; bio-tech, life sciences and health innovation; clean/green technologies; and gaming and digital animation.

Herewith are a few key facts about BC’s tech sector:

  • 86,000 British Columbians work in businesses whose “outputs” are classified as meeting the definition of a high tech industry, representing about 4.5% of the total provincial workforce;
  • the advanced technology sector has grown faster than the overall BC economy (measured in terms of both aggregate revenues and industry GDP) over most of the past decade;
  • the tech sector in BC is comprised of ~9,000 companies that collectively generate $23 billion in revenues each year;
  • the typical wage/salary of a BC tech sector worker is 60% higher than the economy-wide average;
  • the vast majority of BC’s technology-based businesses are small – with fewer than ten employees.

This latter observation points to what, arguably, is the most fundamental challenge for the tech industry in British Columbia: scaling up more companies so they reach significant size. According to one published survey, of the 60 largest technology companies (ranked by number of BC employees) in 2014, only 16 had at least 500 local staff.[1] The three biggest technology-based firms in BC are Telus, Shaw and Bell, followed by LifeLabs, Electronic Arts, SAP, Schneider Electric, SONY, McKesson Imaging, and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates. The table below lists the 30 biggest BC tech firms based on employment levels.

Rank Company BC Employees Rank Company BC Employees
1 Telus Corp 8,200 16 Stemcell Technologies Inc. 515
2 Shaw Communications Inc. 5,140 17 Westport Innovations Inc. 460
3 Bell Canada 2,600 (tie) Creation Technologies 460
4 LifeLabs Medical
Laboratory Services
2,000 (tie) Viking Air Ltd. 460
5 Electronic Arts 1,300 20 PMC-Sierra Inc. 456
6 SAP Canada Inc. 1,100 21 Amec Foster Wheeler 411
7 Schneider Electric Canada 750 22 HP Advanced Solutions Inc. 405
8 Sony Pictures Imageworks 700 23 Alpha Technologies Ltd. 364
9 McKesson Imaging &
Workflow Solutions
645 24 Global Relay 330
10 MacDonald, Dettwiller
and Associates Ltd.
609 25 Vision Critical 320
11 Cascade Aerospace Inc. 600 26 Disney Interactive 300
12 Hootsuite 580 27 Sierra Wireless Inc. 287
13 Microsoft Canada Inc. 550 28 Sierra Systems 286
14 Glentel Inc. 540 29 Ballard Power Systems 281
15 Fortinet Inc. 518 30 Absolute 251

The BC Technology Industry Association (BCTIA) has made facilitating company growth its number one priority. Through its Centre4FGrowth initiative, the BCTIA is working to help BC technology firms increase their revenues and further develop their customer base. Encouraging companies to grow and scale up should also be top-of-mind for government policy-makers anxious to see the tech sector expand. The BC government’s new $100 million venture capital fund targeting early stage (but not start-up) technology companies is a positive step in this regard.

British Columbia has a reputation as a fertile environment for innovative business start-ups and entrepreneurial activity. Finding ways to enable more of our promising technology firms to grow into substantial businesses with an export presence is where policy-makers and industry leaders now need to be putting their attention.

[1] Business in Vancouver, Book of Lists, 2015.

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