Who is the “voice” of the Information and Communications Technology industry in Nova Scotia? Does it need a “voice” to begin with? And if so should it come from industry, government, or a combination of both?
These and other probing questions were being discussed at the second annual Digital Leaders Summit, put on by Digital Nova Scotia (DNS), and before I attempt to answer them let me make a full disclosure: I’ll be talking about an industry in which I have a vested interest, a region where I’ve lived most of my life, and people I have known for many years.
Since 1989, Digital Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit organization, has been dedicated to the ongoing growth and development of Nova Scotia’s Digital Technologies Industry, which includes traditional ICT and also digital content such as social media consulting and video game production.
My business has belonged to and supported DNS throughout that time, and so do some 70 other firms, from two-person startups all the way to industry giants such as CGI and Research in Motion.
So if ICT has a voice, it will be found in Digital Nova Scotia. But that voice is being weakened due to a lack of funding.
I recently spoke with Jason Powell, the President of DNS, and he told me the current strategic plan for the organization focuses on three things: understanding who makes up the industry, coming up with an HR strategy, and branding Nova Scotia as a leader in the ICT industry.
Says Powell, DNS is about “building wealth for companies in our industry who will in turn create wealth for our province”.
He is careful to distinguish “wealth” from “jobs”, and wants to see more done for indigenous companies, particularly in supporting them in bringing in export dollars, which will be reinvested in the province as opposed to some head office elsewhere. Right there is a reason I support his efforts.
Powell also came armed with research: according to Statistics Canada, the ICT industry in Nova Scotia represents 4.4% of the provincial GDP, bigger than residential and commercial construction combined, bigger than agriculture, forestry, hunting, and fishing combined, twice the size of tourism, and over five times the size of wood products manufacturing.
The ICT industry contributes 1.2 billion dollars annually to the Nova Scotia economy, and this doesn’t include its contribution within other sectors - those working in IT for aerospace firms or government, for example.
Premier Dexter spoke at the DNS Annual Dinner which took place the same day as the summit, and quoted some StatCan statistics of his own, confirming the 1.2 billion dollar annual figure and adding that in terms of real GDP, Information and Communications Technology grew faster in Nova Scotia between 2000 and 2010 than in any other province. He also stated that in that time ICT in Nova Scotia grew three times as fast as the economy as a whole.
So it is huge. Yet core government funding for Digital Nova Scotia was cut last year, and it no longer can afford a full-time executive director, much less staff to do many of the programs envisioned by Powell, things like school awareness programs, business development programs for its members, and advocacy initiatives.
Some folks say DNS should look to its members for the shortfall and stop asking government for handouts. But if there can be entire government departments for industries less than half the size, should there not be some funding for an organization that’s dedicated to growing the digital economy?
One person at the conference stood up near the end and told us he is retired from 35 years of economic development service. He then gave us this advice: “ You guys have to organize yourselves and lobby for government support. The organization needs to have a face and leadership, then government will listen.”
OK, let’s start now.