Bigger than a billion?

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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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.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @bartlett_steve

Organizations: Virtual Marine Technology, Trinity International Consultants, Marine Institute

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, U.S., Canada

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  • Trinity
    January 11, 2012 - 15:00

    In response to David's rant, I can only say that, as the US consultant referred to in the article, the numbers currently being forecast for the ocean tech sector in Newfoundland are pretty accurate - and will likely turn out to be low when they are looked back upon somewhere down the road. The province has done a uniquely masterful job in identifying and nurturing this strategically important sector - and at a time when the market for this technology is expanding exponentially world-wide. It should be noted that the Newfoundland Ocean Tech Sector is now being looked upon internationally as a model for success in moving innovation from the marine research labs to the commercial marketplace. The many new industries that are spinning out of St. John's are beginning to rival competitors in such "home run" hitting countries as the US, the UK, Germany, Japan and China. Relax and enjoy the game David, there are many runs to be scored yet!

    • David
      January 13, 2012 - 17:21

      Ah, I see. My sunmmary of historical fact is a "rant", while vague, generalized, pie-in-the-sky projections, the staple of the mercenary consultant, these we must once again bet the farm on! Here's a 'rant' for you pal: Rutter Technologies.

  • David
    January 04, 2012 - 13:43

    It's always the same thing...in Newfoundland, no one is interested in solid, modest, feasible ideas...we only swing for the fence here, baby! Everything is either world-class, "Dubai-esque" pie-in-the-sky ideas, with amounts and figures pulled squarely out of one's arse. Its' as funny as Dr. Evil demanding his "biiillllion dollars!" And, off course, home run swinging means you strike out a lot----and so far for us, it's been every time at bat.