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N.L. Liberals release plan for tech sector

Premier Dwight Ball speaks Friday at a technology industry summit at Verafin on Hebron Way in St. John’s.
Premier Dwight Ball speaks Friday at a technology industry summit at Verafin on Hebron Way in St. John’s. - Joe Gibbons

Broad set of companies could potentially benefit

Hi-Point Industries is a manufacturer. The Newfoundland and Labrador-based company sells oil absorbents, floating containment booms and oil-spill response kits — shop kits, car kits — all made right here.

And in the eyes of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the company has a foot in the province’s technology sector, given manufacturing technology is at the heart of the business and its continued success.

“Our equipment we use for manufacturing, it really makes a difference,” Christina Blanchard, a project engineer with the company, told The Telegram Friday.

“We had funding to get a new piece of equipment and that led to us being able to get orders we weren’t able to compete on before. So, getting new technology and investing in our manufacturing makes a big difference.”

The company uses peat from the island in manufacturing Oclansorb — a popular brand of oil absorbent found not only throughout the province, but internationally, including in multiple South American countries. The local operations involve two locations in Bishop’s Falls and one in Corner Brook, employing about 30 people.

Company reps were at Verafin in St. John’s for a technology summit Friday, coinciding with the release of The Way Forward on Technology — the latest sector plan to be rolled out by the Liberal government.

The plan has potential implications for Hi-Point, in its broad-strokes education and immigration-related plans, but also if it should happen to be named one of the 40 companies the provincial government plans to pick and give focused supports over the next two years (20 per year), to speed growth.

Companies have already started to be identified through The Way Forward planning process, but staff with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation (TCII) will do further outreach, considering who could most benefit.

There is no new money with the plan released, not even for a proposed Innovation Centre (a campus for research organizations, start-ups and development organizations).

However, officials say there has been some re-organization within TCII and a directed, joint effort with industry associations and post-secondary educational institutions to at least put on paper ideas for the next couple of years of joint efforts in technology, to add jobs and expand businesses.

“One of the things we know about technology and innovation is that that must be introduced, more efficiencies, within our traditional industries as well,” said Premier Dwight Ball, who later addressed the industry summit.

“We’re seeing technology, we’re seeing innovation in our fishing industry, we’re seeing it in our agricultural industry, within our forestry industry. So all of the industries that defined the history of Newfoundland and Labrador are ready for innovation, they are ready for technology, for more success as well,” Ball said, while also cheering success stories of companies meeting the more traditional image of the tech sector, both software and hardware.

Ron Taylor, chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries, said the plan was developed with industry input.

“I think it’s more (about) managing the opportunity,” Taylor said, when asked about barriers to growth to be overcome. “When you’ve got a sector that’s quadrupled in size in the last dozen years, that’s not a challenge, that’s an opportunity.”

The Way Forward plan calls for changes in the K-12 and post-secondary systems, and prioritizing skilled potential tech-sector workers in the Provincial Nominee Program for immigration.

Asked what the biggest challenge for Hi-Point Industries is right now, general manager and owner Mike Butler said it was getting the right people.

“It’s hard to retain those employees,” he said. “And … there’s just not enough people around.”

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Hi-Point Industries

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