When it was launched, PEI government officials said the Island Prosperity Strategy would double the size of the province’s aerospace workforce, attract a host of bioscience research and development, boost home-grown energy self-sufficiency and energize the domestic I.T. sector – all this while simultaneously modernizing traditional industries and encouraging the repatriation of Islanders who had had to move away for work.
The Liberal government claims their 70-page Island Prosperity Plan is the play book for all this, but the Progressive Conservatives say this plan won’t create any jobs at all – unless you get a job making glossy signs announcing government projects.
The Plan includes a $40-million investment in people, with a focus on attracting skilled immigrants and former Islanders to man the key sectors. Another $100-million are earmarked for investment in innovation. This includes programs like the pilot fund and the discovery and development fund which will provide money for high-risk projects with commercial potential in order to get them to market more quickly. An additional $60-million will be invested in infrastructure such as the new Biocommons Park and to triple wind energy capacity on the Island (more on this in “Whistling in the Wind?”).
The proposed Biocommons Park, valued at $35-million, is hoped to become the core of the Island’s bioscience industry and its 27 companies. It’s slated to be built on the outskirts of Charlottetown and is currently in the planning stages.
At the present time, PEI’s bioscience sector produces revenues of about $78-million annually and spends $75-million each year on research and development. The Province wants to see revenue grow to $300-million yearly and employment grow to 2,000 workers (up from the current roster of 850). Commercialization has been flagged as the key to achieving that – which is where the Biocommons Park comes in.
The 65-acre Park will be owned by government and will be run either by them or the bioscience industry (the details are still being hammered out). Government monies will be used to install the Park’s infrastructure (e.g. electrical and water and sewer systems) and construct a “business accelerator building” that will house incubation suites where businesses can grow and test products. Other lots in the Park would be available to commercial enterprises which would buy or lease the land from the Province.
Rory Francis, executive director of the PEI Bioalliance says the need for the Park is great. He says the sector is increasingly cramped for space, as the activities of individual companies and at the National Research Council building at UPEI have outgrown their physical footprint.
Canada has a great reputation for government-funded research, but it doesn’t do as well when it comes to commercializing the results of that research, Francis says. He sees the accelerator building as a significant step in reversing that trend.
“With the new economy we’re all stepping out into the unknown here. It’s not like we’ve had a bioscience sector for generations or anything. We’re learning together what it takes to do this and create a science platform that’s credible globally,” says Francis.
Ron Keefe, CEO of Biovectra (a bioscience company), agrees that the Plan’s focus on that sector is much needed. “I think I speak for all the industry when I say this is a good Plan and will help us to grow,” he says.
Some incentives in the Plan include tax breaks for bioscience companies with long term agreements to stay in the sector, and tax breaks for specially-trained employees who have to be recruited to the province. This fiscal commitment, along with an educational and research partnership with Holland College and UPEI, is building the roster of biochemical professionals on Prince Edward Island, Keefe says. “This gives us a critical mass, and frankly will help move the sector forward and move the province forward in terms of employment opportunities and economic development. You focus in this particular area; you’re going to get some solid interest from a number of companies.”
Over $100-million in bioscience infrastructure spending has already been invested over the past five years. During that same time frame, existing companies have expanded and new ones have arrived on the Island. Keefe admits it’s not all because of government but he says there is a definite link.