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Next Big Tech Corridor? Between Seattle and Vancouver, Planners Hope

“We have San Francisco real estate prices with the incomes of somewhere between Reno and Nashville,” said Andy Yan, acting director of the city program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

On the thrumming streets of downtown Vancouver, signs of the Seattle region’s growing economic ties to the city are hard to miss. A rectangular glass and steel office building with a large Microsoft sign occupies nearly an entire city block, sitting atop a large Nordstrom store (another Seattle brand).

Microsoft says it invested $ 120 million in its new offices in Vancouver, which opened in June, and expects to spend $ 90 million more annually on wages and other operating costs. It plans to employ nearly 750 people in the city.

Microsoft is hiring Canadians for the facility, but the country’s more open immigration policies were an important factor in its investment, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, said in an interview. Microsoft and other tech companies have long complained that the United States education system does not produce enough computer science graduates, forcing them to rely on immigrants from India, China and elsewhere.

Foreign workers in the United States can wait about three times as long for a work visa as those in Canada do, the Boston Consulting Group estimates. And the prospect of Donald J. Trump winning the presidency has raised concerns among tech companies, because of the Republican candidate’s comments about further restricting immigration to the United States.

“Right now, there’s just a lot of uncertainty about open immigration,” Mr. Smith said.

Last month, officials and executives from both cities huddled in a Vancouver hotel to discuss how to enable people, ideas and capital to flow more freely between them, as heedless of the international border separating the cities as a pod of orcas swimming in the sea.

At the Cascadia conference, Ms. Clark and Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, signed an agreement to deepen the ties between Vancouver and Seattle, including more research collaboration between the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Satya Nadella, its current chief executive, talked about globalization and education.

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Microsoft offices in Vancouver. Canada’s more open immigration policies are a draw for American tech giants. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

One proposal to deal with traffic between Vancouver and Seattle was for a high-speed rail line that would whisk travelers at more than 200 miles an hour between the cities in 57 minutes (it can take four hours or more by car). The details on financing the project — which could cost an estimated $ 30 billion or more — have not been worked out.

A group of Seattle techies proposed a cheaper alternative: a dedicated lane for autonomous vehicles on Interstate 5, the highway connecting Seattle to the Canadian border. The plan — which relies on autonomous vehicles that still need a lot of work — would not shave much time off the commute between the cities, but could make the ride less tedious by letting travelers work or watch a movie, said Tom Alberg, a managing director at Madrona Venture Group, a Seattle venture capital firm, and an author of the proposal.

With roots in timber and shipping, Vancouver’s economy has diversified in recent decades with the growth of film and video game production. The city claims a tech “unicorn” — a start-up valued at over $ 1 billion — in Hootsuite, which makes social media tools.

But Vancouver remains a relative small fry in tech, with about $ 1.78 billion in venture capital flowing into local tech start-ups in the last decade, compared with about $ 8.9 billion in Seattle, the research firm Pitchbook estimates.

Still, the city’s hoped-for tech boom may hit a wall if it cannot address its cost-of-living issues, which are by some standards more acute than those plaguing other thriving cities. Vancouver was ranked the third most unaffordable city in the world, after Hong Kong and Sydney, in a study published this year by Demographia, a consulting firm.

Mr. Yan has spent years analyzing his hometown’s soaring real estate values and concluded that a surge in foreign capital, primarily from mainland China, has decoupled Vancouver home prices from the local economy. British Columbia recently imposed a 15 percent tax on new home purchases in the Vancouver area by foreign buyers, a move now facing legal challenges.

The housing market is showing signs of cooling off, though it is not yet clear how much of that is because of the tax. The total number of homes sold in the area in August dropped 26 percent from a year earlier and price growth has slowed, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Dennis Pilarinos, chief executive of Buddybuild, a Vancouver maker of developer tools for mobile apps, says affordability has been less of a problem for young tech workers, who may be willing to rent smaller apartments and live with roommates. But when start-ups get bigger, many struggle to recruit senior executives with families, said Mr. Pilarinos, who previously worked for Microsoft and Amazon in Vancouver.

“Companies tend to run into scaling issues,” he said. “You end up with fewer Microsofts or Amazons.”

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