(Originally published in the Ocean Tech 2014 issue of Progress Magazine)
By any metric, ocean science is one of Nova Scotia’s core industries, injecting a staggering $1.8 billion into the provincial economy every year. But despite the accolades and attention heaped on shipbuilders such as Irving Shipbuilding Inc. and fisheries companies such as Clearwater Seafoods Ltd. and National Sea Products Ltd., most Nova Scotians are barely aware that the ocean technology industry exists. Now a new advocacy group is working to change that.
The Ocean Technology Council of Nova Scotia (OTCNS) has been created to represent the collective interests of oceantech businesses in the region. GeoSpectrum Technologies Inc. president Paul Yeatman is the council’s chair. “We’re trying to make Nova Scotians realize how important this industry is to our economy,” he says. “Ocean technology is primarily an export industry. We sell the vast majority of our products and services to other countries. That means we’re injecting money into our economy and increasing the wealth of the province. Our industry is creating a lot of sustainable jobs in a province that has a declining population.”
Founded as a sub-organization of the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Nova Scotia (ADIANS), OTCNS represents about 60 member companies across the region. It provides information about the industry, advocates on behalf of member companies, co-ordinates interests and activities, and provides human resource and business-development support.
One of OTCNS’s primary goals is to promote education, says ADIANS executive director Gordon Gale. “We’re working at every level, from junior high schools to postgraduate university programs, to develop interest in the ocean technology sector as a place to establish a career. We’ve worked closely with universities. We’re helping develop an outreach program for schools with the Discovery Centre in Halifax, and we’ve developed a program with the Nova Scotia Community College to train postsecondary students.”
The new NSCC ocean technology program, which was in development for about four years, is about to launch this fall at the community college’s Waterfront Campus in Dartmouth. The program is an intensive, year-long, advanced diploma certificate introducing students to everything from the fine points of operating autonomous vehicles and marine instrumentation to seamanship, navigation, and underwater photography. Open to students who already have a science or engineering degree or diploma, the program features a four-month internship and a chance for a job placement upon completion.
At the same time, OTCNS is encouraging oceantech companies with good ideas to look to global value chains as a place to sell goods and services. With Canada’s new Defence Procurement Strategy (DPS) with the newly revamped Industrial Technology Benefits (ITB) program and its value proposition, it’s a timely message. The ITB and value proposition elements of the DPS means that major defence contractors will engage with local companies producing related technologies—a huge potential payoff for Canadian oceantech companies—most of which meet the requirements for ITB contracts. “It’s going to encourage a lot of small companies in the region to establish links with large contractors,” says Gale.
A major economic initiative taking place in the European Union is encouraging news for Atlantic Canadian oceantech companies. Horizon 2020 is the biggest research and innovation program ever taken on by the EU, an economic-development juggernaut that will provide European companies with the equivalent of $110 billion in Canadian dollars in direct R&D funding over the next seven years. “Some of that money is slated for ocean technology development,” says Yeatman. “Europe is focusing on becoming the leader in the industry. That means they’re going to be buying equipment that we produce here in Atlantic Canada, and they’re going to be looking for collaborators. If we’re not involved with these companies, we’re going to fall behind.”
Yeatman says it’s important to provide some common direction for the 100 or so individual companies in the region that are working in oceantech—companies that have traditionally laboured in their own silos, eschewing advice and input from others who might be working on similar projects just down the road. Partnerships within the sector have the potential to leverage R&D into valuable one-off products with global market potential, and OTCNS is well placed to provide some direction in that regard. But competition isn’t exactly a bad thing either. “If we have two or three companies producing the same technology here in Atlantic Canada,” says Yeatman, “customers are going to know that this is the place to come to buy that technology.”
Gordon Gale believes that now is the ideal time for OTCNS and its member companies. A perfect confluence of factors, including the looming NSPS shipbuilding program and a rising interest in ocean industry around the world, means that ocean technology will only increase in importance in the region over the next decade. The main factor now is making sure that all of the pieces are in place to take advantage of the opportunity, including a well-educated workforce and better communication and co-operation among companies.
Gale is optimistic about future prospects. “Ocean technology has taken on a life of its own in Halifax. We’ve had a lot of interest from Mayor Mike Savage and a lot of support from provincial agencies, Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education, Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, Nova Scotia Business Inc., and also with federal agencies like ACOA. With the shipbuilding aspect, there is big potential for partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon. And of course, we’ve already got some world-class companies in the region.”