Victoria on the Rise

Victoria’s climate is the undisputed northern champ. It’s a ferry ride away from Vancouver and Seattle. It plays host to a top ranked Canadian university. There are more coffee shops and organic-based restaurants than fast food joints. It offers unlimited physical recreation. Essentially, Victoria has all the makings of a North American technology mecca, yet too often it’s mild temperature mimics it’s mild temperament.

Victoria flies under the radar amidst the surrounding tech mega-cities. In the past, it has gone unnoticed in the eyes of the emerging “Creative Class” (arguably the key to any cities future economic growth). Times appear to be changing though, and Victoria is showing signs of potential.

According to a recent study commissioned by the Victoria Advanced Technology Council (Viatec), “Revenue in Victoria’s technology sector has roughly doubled since 2000.”

The report claims that the city generated $1.95 billion from the technology sector in 2008 alone, and that technology has now surpassed tourism as the city’s premier revenue contributor.

MoneySense’s “Best Places to Live 2009” sheds some light on the issue as well. The overwhelming deterrent for setting up shop in Victoria seems to be the cost of living. It ranks 145 out of 154 cities in terms of “average house price” and “time to buy a house”. Average house price totals a staggering $444k, beating out Ottawa ($272k), Halifax ($234k), Calgary ($362k), and even Toronto ($387k).

Victoria makes up for cost of living in other areas. It ranks #1 in terms of “overall places to live”, dominates “days below freezing” (52.6 days annually), and is a leader in “% of population who bike or walk to work” (16%). There’s a university, college, hospital and it scores well in the Buzz category (% of population employed in culture, arts, and sports).

In Paul Graham’s essay “How to be Silicon Valley“, he speaks about a cities growth based on it’s attractiveness to start-ups. Graham talks about the key components of building a local tech community.

“I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds.”

Well, with the staggering housing prices and attractive retirement climate, it’s evident that the residents of Victoria have some cash to throw around.

As for the nerds, Graham has first-hand insight into the issue.

“Nerds like the kind of town where people walk around smiling.”

“Most nerds like quieter pleasures. They like cafes instead of clubs; used bookshops instead of fashionable clothing shops; hiking instead of dancing; sunlight instead of tall buildings.”

It would seem Victoria has the nerds criteria covered.

Obviously, there is more to building a start-up hub than attracting nerds and rich people. Such things as Venture Capitalist firms and other start-ups are key factors.

Victoria does have a significant amount of start-ups already. Just check the Techvibes start-up index. Popular names include AbeBooks, Flock, NeverBlue, and RevenueWire, to name a few.

In cases such as AbeBooks, these companies are gaining recognition. The world’s large online book marketplace was recently purchased by Amazon for a heafty sum, and adds a level of stability to an already successful venture.

Having recently moved to Victoria in order to follow the ever popular catch phrase “Go West, Young Man!”, I can vouch for the growing tech community. The city and it’s people are vibrant and open to newcomers.

That being said, the city is relatively quiet about it’s ambitions and successes. Possibly because everyone is too busy enjoying the fresh air to worry about self-promotion. I took the plunge to move here from the East Coast, primarily on a hunch about the cities “tech vibe”, and the value-added, nerd lifestyle mentioned earlier. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

This is an open invitation for all to take notice of a city on the rise. And if you, or your business, are  considering taking the plunge yourself, it’s an invitation to do just that.