Column: Exploring the Shuswap’s booming high-tech sector

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

Now, in addition to rich agricultural land, magnificent lakes, and productive forestlands we can add brainpower to the list of Shuswap resources given the remarkable growth of the local high-tech sector.

Throughout this region there are more than 140 technology-based companies, and within Salmon Arm there are 82 high-tech firms employing more than 700 people.

Salmon Arm has the eighth highest per capita employment in the province for high-tech manufacturing and is the leader in the Thompson-Okanagan. Products include sawmill equipment, robotic devices, electronic controls, consoles, and custom power units. Key to the success for these companies is a trained workforce, and within a few years there will be a specialized “mechatronics” program at Okanagan College that will combine robotics, computer science and electrical and mechanical engineering for a two-year diploma program.

Read more: Column: Construction building the Shuswap’s economy

Read more: New zoning emphasizes Salmon Arm’s tech sector

The Salmon Arm Economic Development Society’s (SAEDS) new Innovation Centre serves as an incubator hub for the sector with its meeting rooms, office spaces, and a “Makerspace” in the basement where keen people of all ages can access woodworking, electronics, 3-D printing, and virtual reality and robotics equipment. Small businesses rent offices and have access to Wi-Fi, printers, meeting rooms, the lunchroom and the rooftop patio. There is also the “hot-desk” space that individuals can rent by the day instead of using a coffee shop.

One way SAEDS supports the sector is by focusing on the emerging workforce. This year was their third “Tech Meet-up” at Salmon Arm Secondary, where students mingled with representatives from 25 local businesses who set up booths filled with information about their services and products.

One of Salmon Arm’s leading high-tech corporations is USNR, at the former Newnes facility near the Industrial Park, where 175 employees build and service sawmill optimization equipment. These tools are designed to work at a very fast pace, as in modern sawmills, boards move as fast as 200 per minute and the optimizers do the grading and determine where cutting is needed. This is a very competitive industry, and there are four other companies in Salmon Arm that also build sawmill equipment.

At Valid Manufacturing, the business has moved far beyond metal fabrication and now has 40 engineers doing high-tech design work, including research and development. One of their current projects is developing a small-scale centrifuge that removes the nitrogen and phosphorus from liquid manure for dairy and poultry farms.

A very innovative company in Salmon Arm is Technology Brewing that recently moved to the former school district education centre, which the city has now deemed a high-tech zone. They design and build robotic and scanning systems for a wide variety of industries and businesses. For example, their unique dough scoring system has been successfully working at a bakery for eight years and their 3D machine vision automated train unloading system has decreased the time it takes to unload 100 cars from four days to four hours.

Read more: Innovation centre sparks excitement

Read more: Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

Whereas one of the challenges to expanding local high-tech manufacturing is attracting a skilled workforce, this situation is improving due to the extremely high cost of housing in the Lower Mainland. Young engineers are now eager to move here, especially because of the Shuswap’s attractive outdoor lifestyle, and our proximity to one of Canada’s best ski resorts at Mt. Revelstoke.


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