So “fast,” I’m nearly invisible

by Yule Heibel on July 18, 2007

Really important update — scroll down…

I have been so fast, I’m nearly invisible, which is not as it should be! Perhaps I should make sure that I’m at least leaving tracks — digital footprints, like tea leaves or entrails…

First, a quick personal update for everyone who sorta-kinda heard that I might be moving to Seattle: I am not moving to Seattle after all. I’m staying put in Victoria, and I’m actually very happy about it. There’s so much happening here — I want to stick around for Part II, for the sequel, for the To Be Continued.

Second, I really will get around to putting my magazine articles online soon. The publication I write for (FOCUS Magazine) doesn’t have an online presence (aside from a webpage), but I should do the work at least to put my articles up, perhaps as a “page” on this blog.

Third, …no, wait, I can’t talk about that! (Sorry! ;-))

Finally (for now), why the “fast” in the title? A: I did one of my crazy things the other day — and it again has to do with Victoria, which I find intriguing and fascinating these days. I read all the articles in FastCompany related to the 2007 listings for “fast cities” — and felt aggrieved that of course only Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto were included for Canada. Waterloo and Montreal were included as “reader-nominated” “fast cities.” “Reader nominated,” eh? At that, I felt motivated to act, of course. (Update 7/19: Edmonton is up, too, reader-nominated.)

So naturally I nominated Victoria — which would probably horrify many Victorians, but it’s about time some of us zippy types got to have some say, too. In my nomination of Victoria, I wrote this:

The City of Victoria, designated a 2005 Canadian Cultural Capital, is the core municipality of a metro region known as the Capital Regional District (pop. ~350,000 and growing). It is home to several universities (University of Victoria; Royal Roads; and the recently-founded private University Canada West, which plans to have a downtown campus by next year), as well as a number of colleges and technical and trade schools. The Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Park serves as incubator for high tech companies, and Victoria’s high-tech sector is expanding greatly. Victoria is BC’s provincial capital (seat of government) and, in addition to its growing high-tech sector, Victoria commands a thriving world-class tourism industry, which benefits from the city’s rich inventory of intact heritage buildings (late 19th and early 20th century). Long considered a “sleepy” city (its island location tended to isolate it in the past), it can now leverage today’s networked business climate. Victoria is also undergoing a renaissance in urbanist thinking, manifesting in a construction boom that’s creating a vibrant downtown filled with residential towers and new office buildings. A highly desirable place to live (mild climate, beautiful scenery), Victoria is enriched by the “three Ts” (as defined by Richard Florida), which are crucial to city-making today: talent, technology, and tolerance.

No sooner had I submitted my nomination, I realized that I hadn’t mentioned all the “fast” companies (high tech types and others) that are creating a foothold here. So I tried to add to my submission a couple of days later (today, in fact), but you can’t “double-dip” or double-submit, as it were.


Naturally, I didn’t want to be deterred and so wrote an email to FastCompany‘s editors directly, asking them to pass my supplementary information on to the appropriate editors of the “fast cities” feature. Here’s what I sent today:

In my initial submission I neglected including information about all the interesting locally-founded and locally-based Victoria companies we have right here. Many of them at times appear to have a Vancouver connection (instead of Victoria), but that’s only because Vancouver is the source of most of the press releases. The following companies in fact are actually Victoria-based.

As Victoria seems to be a bit weak in trumpeting its “fast company” highlights, I hope you’ll let me add, for your information, the following (abbreviated) list of local businesses that are developing reputations nationally and internationally:

Abebooks (world’s largest online marketplace for books, lists over 100 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books from more than 13,500 booksellers, started & grown right here, in Victoria)

Carmanah Technology Corp. (they make solar-powered traffic signs, crossings, bus stops, etc. — used in London, UK)

Tactex Controls Inc. (manufacturers of space-age fabrics like Kinotex that incorporates fibreoptic sensing technology, originally designed for the Canadian Space Agency as a sensory skin for robots — I believe they did something with Canadarm, which was used by the space shuttle… They also manufacture high-tech fabrics that are straight out of The Matrix.)

Triton Logging Co. (again, a locally founded company, which uses a locally invented device called a Sawfish that cuts trees which were submerged during hydro or dam building operations; these are old-growth forests, underwater; Triton has a big contract in Africa; their press releases say they’re in Vancouver, but they’re actually here) (From their profile: Triton Logging is the world leader in underwater forestry technology, operations and certified wood products. It was created to take advantage of the significant forest reserves that stand in dam reservoirs throughout the world, collectively holding timber worth more than $50 billion)

Aspreva Pharmaceuticals (founded here, an emerging pharmaceutical company focused on identifying, developing and, upon regulatory approval, commercializing new indications for approved drugs and late stage drug candidates for patients living with less common diseases)

GenoLogics Life Sciences Software (founded here; a leader in the development of open bioinformatics solutions that assist life science research and pharmaceutical laboratories to manage, integrate and analyze vast volumes of scientific and lab data to advance health research and drug discovery)

ETraffic Solutions (established in Victoria: an eLearning company that specializes in Internet-based applications for staff development, information gathering and analysis, online language training and online learning communities)

Municipal Software Corp. (founded in Victoria, the company provides easily installed, powerful and long-term software solutions that manage the everyday business processes of municipalities; most customers are in the US)

ParetoLogic (a Victoria based international software Development Company focusing on Internet Security and PC Optimization was established in 2004 by four software professionals, who just happened to be brothers; uses proprietary Zheng technology)

ACD Systems (a Victoria company; one of the world’s leading developers and marketers of digital imaging software, including the renowned ACDSee image management tool and Canvas, an advanced cross-platform technical illustration and graphics program)

Agresso Corporation (Victoria subsidiary of multinational Unit 4 Agresso, a $450 million provider of business and security software and services listed on the Dutch Stock Exchange EURONET-U4AGR. Agresso, founded in 1991, and Unit 4, founded in 1980, merged in 2000 to become Unit 4 Agresso.)

Terra Remote Sensing Inc. (GIS technology)

Schneider Electric (used to be another, local, company?, bought out by Schneider, a French firm)

Total Delivery Systems (TDS) (founded in Victoria; delivery service, grown here, now expanding / franchising to the Lower Mainland/ Vancouver)

Beanstream Internet Commerce (founded in Victoria, Beanstream provides payment and authentication services to a growing number of active businesses, service organizations, resellers and sales agents across Canada and the United States)

EDS Advanced Solutions (leading provider of Information Technology and Information Management services focused on the provision of outsourcing services to clients who desire a labour-friendly outsourcing solution)

The University of Victoria Genome BC Proteomics Centre (a not-for profit organization, providing analytical services to researchers internationally; Genologics works in the field of proteomics, too; biomedical fields are growing here; Ocean Sciences is also big, but I didn’t include any companies since I don’t know this field)

Neverblue Media Incorporated
(founded/ based in Victoria; a leading online marketing company that specializes in client acquisition and lead generation)

These are just some of the companies I’ve personally heard about or dealt with in some way. There are literally scores more — for a more complete listing see The VIATec Directory (this webpage was also my source for most of the detail info, above).

N.B .: In addition, Victoria is also home to the Dockside Green development, a LEED certified project headed up by Joe van Belleghem of Windmill Developments and Vancity Savings. You can find out more about this “green” project, which is gaining global recognition (we have delegations visiting from China to learn from Dockside) at this site.

Now, do I think that a big player like FastCompany is going to take Victoria seriously, particularly given that Vancouver out-bullies us on the bully pulpit — which incidentally isn’t difficult to do, since Victoria in part likes to think of itself as a nobody? No, I don’t really expect FastCompany to shine its munificent light this way, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking, “hot damn, there is a lot going on here! And this tech stuff is just one part of it!”

Victoria and I perhaps make the same errors: so fast we don’t leave a trace, which perhaps means it’s time to make a pit-stop and send up some signals…


My submission was approved! Victoria is up as a “fast city” on FastCompany! Now please please please: go and rate it — let the world know that you think this is a great place! Click through on this page and give Victoria some linky love!


Dan Gunn July 19, 2007 at 9:02 am

Hi Yule,

Thanks for your efforts on this. VIATeC is always trying to raise the profile of the tech sector in Victoria and we appreciate your efforts with Fast Company. What’s the link for getting your city considered? Maybe we can create a bit of a campaign.


yulelog July 19, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Dan, you can follow the link I included (I’ll post it again, so click here), and toward the bottom of the page, you’ll see the submit your own city link. Now, it might be the case that if you submit Victoria, you’ll get a return message saying that it has already been submitted (that’s what I got when I tried it a second time with my additional info re. local companies). But maybe you can get some other tech bloggers to link to the FastCompany articles, “meme” Victoria so to speak. You must know the guys over at Better Web Posse, right? I don’t know them, but they’re blogging, so get them on to it!

And yeah, let’s let Victoria sparkle a bit! 🙂

yulelog July 19, 2007 at 4:32 pm

Woo-hoo, it’s up! It was approved — just got the email from FastCompany, and here’s the link: Victoria, BC: Fast City. Please go and rate it now!

paul July 20, 2007 at 1:56 pm

wow! good for you, yet another example of the power of the internet. i voted for you! Hope you get it.

yulelog July 20, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Great, thanks Paul — but remember, you voted for my city, not for me — and that’s as it should be! It’s a great place…

maria July 21, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Wow! What a great job you did… and what a service to Victoria. This is certainly not the town I remember from (oh, what?) 20 years ago!

You could probably out together a guide for Victoria in book form in to time at all now. Not that you need another project, but if you did, well….

yulelog July 21, 2007 at 5:23 pm

I’d be happy to start with something pretty simple, Maria, like a downloadable podcast or audiotour of Victoria architecture (past, present, and proposed). The Toronto Star newspaper has exactly this on its site, albeit just for Toronto (of course), and it’s a great resource — wish we had it, but it would need some money behind it, and unfortunately I don’t see our local media stepping up to the plate to fund it.

I’m hoping that I get to write a piece or two for a local business newspaper (after which I’ll tackle the book, haha). Christopher Hume, who did the audiotours of Toronto architecture, wrote an article in the TorStar on the 19th, Time for Toronto to get angry, in which he lambasts the (Canadian — federal & provincial) taxation system, which systematically throttles cities (in this case Toronto).

My take (and I’ve written about this before, on my Victoria City Style Council wiki, for example) is that Toronto is emblematic of all Canadian cities, which are hamstrung in how they can raise revenue (virtually everything has to come from business & residential taxes). Yet cities don’t have the money to provide all the services we need. Cities are supposed to “fix” the homelessness crisis, the drug crisis, the affordability crisis, and every other crisis along the way. Cities are supposed to provide culture, infrastructure, vibrancy, yet they’re supposed to do it all on a shoe-string.

The Conference Board of Canada came out with an utterly damning report recently, castigating Canada for its inability to be be economically innovative. Well, my theory is simply this: the vast majority of Canadians live in urban centres, and innovation traditionally comes out of urban contexts. It’s people in cities who create innovation — economic, cultural, technological — in conjunction with other driving engines like great universities and thriving arts scenes and technology hubs. It’s all about cities: they’re the contributors. Yet Canadians are given this load of bull which valorizes a myth of rural Canada, waving wheatfields, roaming buffalo, and of course, “I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok” in British Columbia. So if Canada is falling down flat on the innovation front, it’s because our government — at federal and provincial level — does nothing to ensure that cities have the money they need to keep those engines humming, to support the cultural scene, to give cities everything they need to build hum-dinger economies. Vancouver has the Olympics coming up in Winter 2010, so the provincial government is throwing money at Vancouver. Now. But once that’s over, they’ll go back to underfunding Vancouver — but even the current boon to Vancouver means nothing for Victoria (which gets the scraps) or any of the other smaller cities in BC.

It is we the people who live in cities, who spend our money here, who consume & produce here, who are producing everything worth anything — yet when I buy a service or a consumer good in this city, I pay a combined tax of 13% (7% to the province, 6% to the feds) on every single item, whether it’s a service or a good/product. The good people of Victoria are providing me with that service, or selling me that product. Yet the tax I pay does not go back to the city — my city — in which I spent my money, but instead goes to the province’s and the federal government’s coffers. That is not right. That’s starvation of the cities, that’s stealing from the cities. And that systematic killing of the goose (city) laying the golden eggs is, IMO, one of the key (if not the key) reason for Canada’s poor performance on any innovation index.

And it makes us complacent. We can’t even imagine anymore that it might be different, that this yoke of provincial & federal oppression could be lifted, or at least fitted a bit more …innovatively, or intelligently, so that it doesn’t kill us.

Oh well, excuse the rant! But it makes me mad — we have it all, in a sense, but the combined complacency and fiscal starvation leave us weak.

Re. “Fast Cities” and FastCompany — I have to admit that I made some errors in my submission, leaving out the word “advanced” in the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology park’s name, and perhaps the CRD (Capital Regional District) population is more like 345,000 instead of 350K, and the gleaming new office towers are in the works (i.e., not yet built), with groundbreaking happening last week, next week, and soon, but other than that, it’s more or less all accurate.

yulelog July 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm

“Canada’s failure to innovate is spilling over into the economy, environmental protection, health care, education, and poverty eradication – turning the country into a land of stifling mediocrity, according to a harsh new report card from the Conference Board of Canada.” — that’s a quote from a June 14 article in the Globe & Mail, Canada, a land of mediocrity.

The article goes on:

“This country is doing dismally in the critically important area of innovation,” writes the board’s president, Anne Golden. “And the implications of that failure … show up in the absence of creative policy and investment decisions across all the other domains.”

The report card, to be released today, compares Canada’s performance in six domains to that of 16 other industrialized countries. The only area in which Canada receives an A is education, mainly because the country is good at pumping large quantities of students through to postsecondary institutions.

But even in education, Canada falters when it comes to producing highly educated professionals who spawn creativity, the report says.


In economics, Canada gets top marks for low inflation, and does well in growth, labour productivity and unemployment.

It gets low marks, however, for its ability to attract foreign direct investment, which often brings in fresh ideas, more investment, advanced technology and entrepreneurial ideas.

In health care, Canada does well at saving people from the flu and pneumonia, but performance on infant mortality and death from diabetes is weak.

Since Canada’s health-care system is geared toward resolving urgent needs, little innovative thinking is done on how to prevent illness, the report says. Canada ranks 10th out of 17 in the “society” domain, mainly because of subpar rankings on poverty among children and the working-age population.


But Canada fares miserably in the areas of innovation and environment, earning a D grade in both categories.

While Canada’s air and water quality are high, and protection of biodiversity is solid, our level of waste generation and our battle to curb climate change are rock bottom, the report says.

Again, the lack of creative thinking to solve these problems slows progress, Ms. Golden said. And so it’s no surprise that in the innovation category, Canada ranks 14th out of 17 countries – “an alarming portent for the future.”

Canada’s scientists don’t keep up with their global peers in the number of articles published, and its inventors don’t keep up in the number of patents, the report shows. For its competitive advantage, it relies on natural resources, and adds little value to goods or services. Canada has a shortage of skilled labour and graduates a low share of science, engineering and trades experts.

The country doesn’t take advantage of high technology, or keep up in the commercialization of knowledge.

“Canadians are complacent and generally unwilling to take risks,” the report scolds. “This culture holds Canada back.”

Pretty damning stuff. The recommendations by the Conference Board sound good, but not a single one addresses what I consider the key element: cities, and that we’re throttling them:

How does the country move forward? Conference Board has 10 suggestions

In a report to be released today on the ranking of Canada’s economy among those of 16 other nations, the Conference Board of Canada pulls no punches in its harsh assessment of the country’s performance, but also offers solutions.

Here are 10 things the board says Canada could do to rid itself of mediocrity:

1) Focus investments on commercialization.

2) Promote cross-border investment flows.

3) Cut taxes on capital investment.

4) Cut red tape.

5) Set up a cap-and-trade system to put a price on emissions.

6) Recognize immigrants’ credentials.

7) Finance a handful of world-class universities.

8 ) Teach all adults to read well.

9) Fund health promotion.

10) Spend more on social programs for children and poor workers.

In other words, the Board makes suggestions that still keep everything very controlled and orderly. It doesn’t recognize the role of cities as places of agility and quick transfer of knowledge (good “chaos”) — and therefore as hubs of innovation, and that’s a mistake. It’s a (typically Canadian, or just bureaucratic?) tame set of recommendations, which don’t allow anyone really to cut loose and run with an idea.

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