John Eden vs. Amber MacArthur

Flipping through the channels earlier this week I stumbled across an old episode of Venture, CBC’s business program. The episode focused on the competition amongst Canadian provinces for a piece of the video game making market, and featured the Island’s own John Eden, Technology PEI’s “Account Executive New Business Investment” in a cameo role trying to drum up video gaming business for PEI.

Apparently the province has decided to focus on the video game market; at least that’s what it says in this Atlantic Business Magazine article:

“A couple of years ago, we identified video game development as an opportunity to grow a cluster in our IT sector” says John Eden, account executive with TechPEI – a Crown corporation established to advance the growth and development of Prince Edward Island’s technology sector. “We looked at what was hot, and decided game development was a way to provide new jobs for similar skills from the technology sector.”

Like the Marshall Medias, the ISPs (Cycor et al), the call centres, and the Atlantic Technology Centre, this effort seems pre-destined to be another crazy grab for business that’s not going to come. Or if it does come it won’t be sustainable nor organic and will simply pack up and leave when the money runs out.

Contrast this insanity with a post today on Island expat Amber MacArthur’s blog:

The Island’s capital city (POP approx. 30K), has come a long way. Now there are no signs of party lines, but there are signs everywhere for open WiFi… everywhere… and I mean everywhere. I’m spending my days working at the high-tech community centre (Queen Street Commons), wandering a block to Timothy’s for more surfing/coffee, stopping by Baba’s Lounge for tea (and more WiFi), and yesterday we shot commandN at ITAP (the Island’s technology centre).
They even have an Apple reseller in town, The Little Mac Shop. There are web designers, bloggers, and tech enthusiasts working and headhailing (AKA brainstorming) on new and exciting projects all over this town. It is so nice to be part of such a tight community. I never want to leave…

None of what Amber mentions has anything to do with the approach the province takes to the “IT industry” (save the technology centre, which was useful mostly for its comfortable chairs).

The real engines of the Island’s IT economy aren’t the simulacrums that the technocrats try to conjure up with bribes incentives, they are the Perry Williams and the Dave Moses and the Peter Richards and the Derek Martins and the silveroranges and the Cynthia Dunsfords and the Kevin O’Briens and the Rob Patersons and the many, many others building small-scale, sustainable, nimble, loosely-coupled businesses. Businesses that don’t have big capital needs. Businesses so small that you might not even notice they exist. Businesses that don’t make good photo opportunities or news releases but that will be here for years after the hepped up droids enticed to move here from Toronto have gone back home.

Let’s just stop allowing our money to be used to fund desperate boneheaded tech megaprojects and focus instead on the elegance of the IT industry we already have. Let’s stop trying to go head-to-head with Toronto and Montreal in the incentives game and realize we have something that they can never duplicate: a quality of life, an interconnectedness, and a strong tradition of nomadic freelancers running a networked economy (read farmers, fishers, builders, weavers).

Let’s stop “growing clusters” and rebuild our approach to managing our IT economy around Amber’s words: “It is so nice to be part of such a tight community. I never want to leave…”

Comments

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on September 2, 2005 - 21:02

Right on Peter — Town Square? I still wonder where the money went?

I can think of another mess in the making now as well where “everybody knows the boat is leaking” but they keep on bailing a sinking ship. (Thanks to Leonard Cohen)

In all fairness QSC has got some help from ACOA — but did not need millions but a bit of help with the fitting out .00000001 of what was spent on the ATC. I might have missed a few decimals

oliver's picture
oliver on September 2, 2005 - 22:15

Yeah, don’t dis’ venture capital and grant’s P. What if the province or somebody else were to give you and silverorange and your friends $100,000 to disburse to IT islanders who submitted business proposals you liked? I guess the time and work of picking recipients would subtract from direct contributions you nimble-minded, already capitalized folks are making to your local economy, but do you not think extra capital nimbly directed could be an efficient boost to local development and so money well spent? Surely there’s some amount of money that wouldn’t be too much—meaning, more money than could be disbursed intelligently and without sucking away more nimble work time (for disbursement) than it actually creates.

Kevin O's picture
Kevin O on September 3, 2005 - 00:32

Good idea Oliver — after fifteen years of watching the swirling vortex of money going down the drain, and the odd lump of predictable matter interrupting the smooth slurping sound occasionally, I’d be happy to see silverorange and Reinvented be the official outlet for IT economic development funds for a decade or so (if it ~must~ happen at all) — after which we could all sit back and compare the results as I sit back and say “I told you so” when it makes no difference at all. While it would be fun to see people who can actually see tomorrow take on this task, it’s not government incentives that produce creative thinking — quite the opposite. Besides that, the technology bandwagon does not need help going down hill (to extend the metaphor) they have to hold it back just to get their hands on the buckboard.

alexander o'neill's picture
alexander o'neill on September 3, 2005 - 07:07

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Succinct and exactly right. Being a part of a government-funded sinking ship made me sick to my stomach every day going into that building to work knowing that I was labouring away under a captain who personally managed the arrangement of deck chairs on the titanic.

Now that I’m working independently, getting paid pretty well, getting to explore technologies that catch my interest, and most especially working on something that I know will turn into something real, it’s much better for your health.

Scot MacDonald's picture
Scot MacDonald on September 3, 2005 - 17:00

It amazes me to no end how short-sighted your argument is against people like John Eden and the entire rationale for the need for pro-active economic development in this province.

After you’re done patting yourself on the back for the so-called patchwork of nimble, loosely-coupled businesses supposedly driving the IT economy in PEI, why don’t you take a reality dose. These companies, all of which are impressive in their own right and run by equally dynamic individuals like the Kevin O’Brien’s of the world, employ a grand total of about 100 people in PEI. In case you don’t get it, provincial governments in PEI are reminded daily on the doorsteps of voters about two things: health care and job creation. If Islanders were depending upon the approach you champion for providing some measure of hope for a job in the IT industry they’be be waiting a long time. You say so yourself: “businesses so small you might never know they exist.”

It’s easy to sit back and throw rocks at TechPEI for past failures, the only projects it seems to ever to hit the headlines, but not so easy to admit real succcesses. For every penny invested in call centres in PEI the Province, and PEI taxpayers, have easily been rewarded 100 times over on a straight financial ROI basis. Whether you are in favour or not of working in call centres is open to personal opinion, but you can’t argue with the numbers. As for the video game sector, why wouldn’t PEI want to stimulate a sector in PEI that is so atractive to young IT workers?

Why so much contempt for companies coming to PEI to take advantage of incentives offered by agencies like TechPEI? Every province, state and industrialized nation in the world has some measure of investment attraction that involves incentives. Do all of these investments pan out? No, but that does not mean we can afford to insulate ourselves from off-Island investment and opportunities for growth in our workforce for the sake of a following an organic-only approach either.

Finally , Atlantic Technology Centre, the favorite whipping boy of the anti-government approach to big picture thinking in the PEI IT sector. ATC is not a panacea and there is plenty that could have been done differently and more cheaply, but it’s also not the waste-hole you make it out to be simply because it doesn’t provide you personal or corporate benefit. Having worked in economic development for almost 10 years and much of that time leading TechPEI efforts at times on both on-Island and off-Island investment, I can tell you its development has done more to attract off-Island investmentt and interest in PEI than can be measured. The vast majority of money required to build the $24 M ATC was borrowed from the commercial banks, so government’s investment in that facility is only a fraction of what you and others make it out to be. As an asset that is only growing in value, the PEI taxpayer will not lose a nickel on ATC. It was at the time, and still is, a necessary part of infrastructure just like West Royalty Industrial Park was 40 years ago.

QSC is fantastic, and makes TechPEI look pretty lame right now after taking 4 years to launch an incubator program of some sort that Dan and his colleagues managed to do in less than 3 months. But QSC is not the answer to keeping young Islanders from leaving every year, or in attracing smart people back to PEI. This will only happen if job opportunities are readily available, openly advertised and if secondary options are also here in the event of job displacement.

My point being, your argument is all too black all too often, when the answer is a medium shade of grey. Smaller companies like those you mention have an important place in the IT community in PEI, but so do larger PEI firms like Deltaware and those that move here from outside the Province.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 3, 2005 - 20:18

Thanks for your well-worded comments, Scot — nice to hear from someone who’s been both “inside” and “outside” Technology PEI.

oliver's picture
oliver on September 3, 2005 - 20:27

How about “Anne of Green Gables, the Video Game.” Islanders hone and/or learn game-making IT while creating a world-wide advertisement for PEI tourism. I guess there’s the risk that Islanders are so sick of Anne that nobody would participate.

Jason's picture
Jason on September 5, 2005 - 12:15

I’ve had past experience working with members of Tech PEI in the past. And I have to agree…I am amazed at how some folks got their jobs in there….which leads me to my point on this topic. They don’t know squat about what the Tech industry is doing.

Now, granted, some creative/tech savy folks aren’t the best at crunching numbers…but my goodness… if you’re going to be handling millions of dollars you should have an inkling as to what you’re investing in.

Peter, as successful as you are in the IT community, I don’t agree with your comment of a Silver Orange / Reinvented “Tech PEI”. The underground IT community does not stop at the yellow building on Fitzroy Street. What I do believe should happen is that there should be co-operation of both Tech PEI and the local “nimbly” based IT companies/professionals. A possible board perhaps which contains the knowledge needed to properly understand what projects should be here…coupled with the number crunching business sense that is the Government.

As much as I loathe some of the choices Tech PEI has made in the past, I do think it can play an important part in this province for helping us create sustainable projects in the future…..they just need knowledgeable people like ourselves in the passenger seat navigating them with the map.

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on September 6, 2005 - 16:57

Looks like the video game market may be taking off, after all.
Here is a competition (http://www.techpei.com/jobs.ph… TechPEI’s website for a company with work “in the Atlantic Provinces” as well as its Vancouver studio.

Programmers, 2D/3D CG Artists, Producers, Designers, Testers
BACKBONE
CLOSING DATE: SEPTEMBER 17, 2005

Description

North America’s largest independent video game developer is looking to expand, with new job opportunities in the Atlantic Provinces

Programmers
2D/3D CG Artists
Producers
Designers
Testers

Qualifications

Visit our information sessions in Charlottetown, 90 University Avenue, 10:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on September 19, 2005. Select interviews will also be conducted for those who submit resumes by email to: peresumes@backb.com or fax to 604-738-9294 by August 26, 2005.

Contact

BACKBONE
N/A
N/A
peresumes@backb.com
http://www.backb.com

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