Atlantic Canada’s lone bid in the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative was announced as one of the five successful applicants on Thursday.
That means the Ocean Supercluster, a private-sector-led group of big and small companies, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations operating in Canada’s ocean-based industries, will see their investment matched dollar for dollar from a $950-million fund from Ottawa.
The goal of the initiative is to drive economic growth by backing innovation in sectors where potential and opportunities exist, thereby creating thousands of new jobs and bolstering national gross domestic product (GDP).
The federal government has said it predicts a $50-billion boost to the Canadian economy and more than 50,000 middle-class jobs by establishing these hubs of industry and research.
“We want to recreate Silicon Valleys in Canada because we’re convinced that’s how you grow sustainable jobs: creating an environment where businesses can invest and create those jobs,” Seamus O’Regan, Newfoundland and Labrador’s federal cabinet representative, told reporters Thursday outside federal offices in St. John’s.
“We can grow here because we’re very good at what we do when it comes to oil and gas, when it comes to the fishery, when it comes to aquaculture, defence, shipping.”
The Ocean Supercluster bid and investor commitment of roughly $125 million was led by large organizations such as Nova Scotia-based Emera and Clearwater Seafoods, Cuna del Mar, a holding company invested in offshore aquaculture products, and Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador (PRNL), the not-for-profit organization that facilitates and funds research and development on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil and gas industry.
PRNL president Alan Clarke, who was in Ottawa to represent the Ocean Supercluster bid at the announcement, says the win is even bigger for the dozens of small and medium-size enterprises in the ocean industry sector and for academic institutions conducting leading ocean research who signed on to be part of the bid.
“That global marketplace is now huge and we’ve got such good representation of Newfoundland and Labrador companies, and Newfoundland-based big-sector companies like OCI, for example, that enables the small business to connect into a huge marketplace and understand what the needs of that marketplace is going to be,” says Clarke.
“There’s an ability to fund and co-ordinate your efforts with other members of the cluster to really drive an efficient technology.”
“My hat’s off to businesses here, big and small, for getting behind this bid and putting their money where their mouth is,” O’Regan added.
After the Ocean Supercluster was announced as one of nine finalists last fall, Clarke says, more and more organizations started to sign on, which allowed them to broaden sectors and bring competitors to the table.
“It’s been a fantastic result of what people now perceive they can do together, so we’re learning a lot from each other very quickly,” he said.
“I think there’s going to be substantial quicks wins in this just in terms of how we re-adapt technology from different industries we’re using, and we’ll also go very strongly down the path of the innovation of what’s needed to go even further.”
With approximately 70 per cent of Canada’s ocean economy based in Atlantic Canada, it made sense the bid was made from groups here. But Clarke says four other provinces and one territory are represented, making it a truly coast-to-coast-to-coast initiative.
“What technology we develop in Atlantic Canada in conjunction with the west coast and the North can be readily duplicated in those arenas and further enhance the economic benefits of that.”
Critics of the plan have taken issue with the idea of Ottawa picking winners and losers, and that the funding amounts to corporate welfare.
O’Regan was quick to dismiss the notion, repeatedly stating the federal government followed the lead of the private sector.
“We are not into this to presume or to assume where the private sector would want to invest. We listened to them, and not only that, we followed the money.
“When business has skin in the game you know they are invested and they want to make this work.”
In the coming weeks, Clarke says, the group will get to work on its contribution agreement with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada in order to figure out what the terms are and how they should organize themselves in line with expectations.
They’re already got a number of programs off the ground, Clarke said.
“We’ve got many programs that have been continuously running for a number of months in trying to evaluate how we are going to get down to what the technology requirements are going to be. That’s been ongoing and will continue to go on in parallel while we formulate the organization.”