Report identifies Edmonton Research Park as asset to regional innovation

· The Pulse

A report commissioned by Edmonton Global on supporting innovation in the region recommends continuing to build upon the Edmonton Research Park, a facility the city has just finished consulting stakeholders on after deciding to sell two of the buildings.

The report, titled Fostering a Technology and Innovation Ecosystem: Insights for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, contains five recommendations to support Edmonton Global in its mandate to attract new investment to the region, based on lessons drawn from more advanced ecosystems in Helsinki, Toronto-Waterloo, and Austin. Among them is a recommendation identifying the Edmonton Research Park as a useful asset.

"There is potential to increase the scope of the Edmonton Research Park to become a vibrant hub for technology and innovation or to explore the development of an innovation hub elsewhere, such as downtown Edmonton," the report says, noting that such a project would have to consider the needs of entrepreneurs, startups, and established companies, and would need to be developed with the involvement of various players in the ecosystem. "A key to any successful innovation hub or district is the ability to bridge the gap between academia and large industry," the report adds.

Edmonton Global would "have to do a little bit more digging with the City of Edmonton and some other partners" before it would do anything about that recommendation, said Brianna Morris, senior manager of policy and advocacy.

"It's been identified as an interesting asset, and it's really about how do we take advantage of it," added Chris McLeod, vice-president of global marketing and communications for the regional economic development agency.

Some companies based at the research park were disappointed when Edmonton city council's executive committee green-lit the sale of the Advanced Technology Centre and Research Centre 1, two buildings among the 18 on the 41-hectare site in south Edmonton. The Edmonton Research Park Business Consortium opposed the sale and called for more consultation, which the city has been working on since spring, closing its final round of input on Nov. 11.

Meanwhile, Edmonton Unlimited has been working on an "innovation destination" at 10107 Jasper Avenue in downtown Edmonton, which it is now planning to occupy in spring 2023, later than originally envisioned and after it bade farewell to the Mercer Building on 104 Street.

A three-storey building behind a pond with a fountain and cattails

A view of the Biotechnology Business Development Centre at the Edmonton Research Park, taken in 2004 when the now defunct Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was responsible for it. (Flickr)

The report also recommends the following:

  • Promote home-grown success stories;
  • Host a regionally or internationally recognized event in technology and innovation;
  • Review gaps in the technology and innovation ecosystem for under-represented groups;
  • Promote a global mindset.

These are more within Edmonton Global's power to make happen or work with partners to enact than activating the Edmonton Research Park, McLeod and Morris suggested.

When it comes to events, Edmonton Global is keen on attracting international investors to conferences that are already happening here, such as Upper Bound, the successor to the inaugural AI Week put on by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). Edmonton Global is involved in events such as the Canadian Hydrogen Convention and the NASCO Continental Reunion, a North American conference on supply chains and trade networks that is coming to Edmonton in 2023, but it's not interested in trying to duplicate Austin's South by Southwest conference and festival, McLeod said.

"We are different than Austin," he said. "It's more about how do we take the unique things that are here, like hydrogen and AI and others, and really make sure that the investors and the companies around the world that are looking for talent, are looking for opportunity, that we bring them into these things that are already occurring."

Although the report was just released, it was commissioned 18 months ago. Much has changed during that time, and action is already underway on many of the recommendations, McLeod said.

Such policy papers can help keep the Edmonton region top-of-mind in the provincial government, Morris said, especially given the changes to ministerial portfolios since Danielle Smith replaced Jason Kenney as premier.

"That's a big part of this policy research program, making sure the provincial government knows what the Edmonton region specifically needs, and what's going on here," Morris said.