Government, industry see huge potential in ocean technology
An anonymous volunteer carries out a three-hour immersion suit test in the ice tank at the National Research Council facility at Memorial University. — File photo by Moira Baird/The Telegram
Government has pegged it to become a billion-dollar industry, however a player in the ocean technology sector believes that figure is just a first step.
“It’s going to be much bigger than that,” said Tony Patterson.
He’s chairman of OceansAdvance, an industry group. He’s also president of Virtual Marine Technology, a St. John’s firm that develops simulators for navigation training.
Ocean technology encompasses a range of things, such as radar, robotics, weather forecasting and offshore safety.
“We have some creative and innovative companies here that are on the leading edge of this type of technology,” said Keith Hutchings, minister of innovation, business and rural development.
He estimates those businesses currently have combined sales and exports of about $500 million a year. Government wants to see that double by 2015.
“We see this as an industry with tremendous potential,” Hutching said.
The harsh ocean climate off Newfoundland and Labrador is one reason why the locally developed technology has such promise. Basically, if it succeeds in or withstands conditions here, it’ll work anywhere else.
Government, which unveiled a comprehensive strategy for the industry in 2010, has a number of initiatives underway to help the sector expand.
Included is a contract with Trinity International Consultants, which has been assisting local companies break into the U.S. market since 2008.
Patterson’s company has used Trinity, as well as similar firms. He explained that entering areas outside Newfoundland and Canada requires a fair amount of market presence, and such consultants are on the ground and know who potential buyers are.
‘It just helps us accelerate our business development cycles and accelerate our sales,” Patterson said, adding, “To have someone vetted by the province is a huge step forward because you know you’re getting someone who is reputable and can get the job done.”
The province is also hiring an assistant deputy minister of oceans to help facilitate the industry’s growth. The process of filling that position has begun.
Christopher Mitchelmore, New Democratic critic for Hutchings’ department, said he likes what the province is trying to achieve, particularly because it helps move Newfoundland and Labrador towards a more knowledge-based economy.
“I certainly applaud the government in making that move forward, to basically double the value of the industry,” Mitchelmore said, adding pursuing the sector is a natural fit, especially with facilties like the Marine Institute and C-Core are already well-established here.
But while approving of the government’s aim, he had a concern about action and implementation.
“It can’t be something that’s just planned and planned and planned without getting there. They do have to be open and have dialogue with the stakeholders,” Mitchelmore said.