The Campus after Campus – Québec Metro High Tech Park

The Campus after Campus – Québec Metro High Tech Park

LiQ_Mag_Mar_2015_coverThis article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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By Farnell Morisset

With surroundings that feel like something between a California-style university campus and a northern industrial zone, it’s easy to drive through the Québec Metro High Tech Park and know you’re in an area of the city not quite like any other. Bordered by highways and railroads, it’s an area most outsiders are unlikely to even visit, except while trying to find a shortcut in rush-hour traffic. With its lush trees and quiet atmosphere, the High Tech Park cultivates the aura of a hidden elf village – unknown to most, but a fount of innovation and development.

It’s the university campus appeal that is most prized in this particularly innovative area of the city, at least for those behind its inception. The High Tech Park is not so much interested in fostering the development of large-scale industry, but rather aims to act as a crucible of development of new technologies, notably those stemming from start-ups created by young university graduates.

Natalie Quirion is the Park’s general manager. She explains its founding along those lines, referring to the economic reality behind the creation of the Park in 1988. “The realization was that we had a university, Laval University, with a bunch of researchers and graduates who don’t always find work to their standards, in either the science world or elsewhere, and who had to move to Montréal or other cities to find these jobs,” she explains.

The former rector of Laval University toured early concepts of similar high tech parks in North Carolina, and brought back the idea of creating a business campus with a technology focus. The concept was backed by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, who came together to create the High Tech Park initially as a Crown corporation. A then-unused plot of land became the new campus. Over the years, a series of small start-ups have grown into multi-million dollar companies in Québec’s core technology sectors such as optics and photonics, pharmaceutical products, biotechnology, security, and new materials. The Park’s administration is now a non-profit corporation funded by the sale and rental of space on the 15 million square feet of land it owns and the services it offers to businesses there.

Keeping the large number of often young and well-educated professionals engaged and involved is a particular challenge for the High Tech Park. It has responded by trying to re-create the university campus culture many of its professionals came from, and which gave rise to many of their start-ups. New centralized areas are being created, which will act as hubs of activities and services, and the Park now holds various sporting events and social gatherings where scientists, engineers, researchers and technicians can relax. Quirion also stresses the importance of strategic networking, as people in such specialized professions often have opportunities to collaborate on projects and learn about best practices from one another.

The businesses within the High Tech Park are not the only ones benefiting from its existence. A core component of the Park’s mission, from the start, has been to offer important benefits to the city as a whole. Creating a culture of innovation has helped establish Québec City as an international player in the world of technology and provide high-paying jobs, which bring more tax revenue to the city in a market sector that tends to react with much more flexibility to global economic stresses.

LiQ_Mag_Sub_BannerThe process seems to be working. In the early 2000s, there were some 2200 people employed by the various companies in the High Tech Park. Today, there are over 5200, spread over roughly 100 different businesses. “The number of businesses hasn’t doubled,” Quirion specifies, “it’s the existing companies that have expanded.”
“Those who start in the Park, grow in the Park,” Quirion says. She gives dozens of examples of companies that started at the Park with just one or two employees, who now export around the world and hire dozens, if not hundreds, of highly-skilled technology professionals. Demand is so high that an important issue companies face is how to attract more skilled professionals, particularly programmers, towards research and development initiatives.
Continuing the tendency to reflect campus life, about 10 per cent of people working in the High Tech Park are immigrants, which is about the same ratio as Laval University, and significantly higher than the rest of the region. For these immigrants, the Park also becomes an important tool for social integration as the various social and sporting events are often a way for newly-arrived workers to build their own support networks and make new friends.

The Park still faces challenges. The technology sector, particularly in fields related to programming, is trending towards urbanization, while the High Tech Park’s campus is poorly served by public transport. “We can’t put the Park on wheels and move it downtown,” Quirion jokes. “I see it positively. We have to create the lifestyle where people can meet and exchange ideas to innovate. Our territory allows us to do this. We’ve worked with urban studies students. We’ve developed a land development vision and a plan for our vacant spaces with the help of students and professionals.”

The Québec Metro High Tech Park has so far been a runaway success, and the city is looking to expand the concept in other sectors. Clearly, there’s a lot of faith in the concept, one that the city can only hope has a bright future.

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About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He has an engineering degree from Université Laval and is currently a law student at McGill University.

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