Microsoft president is “very bullish” about growth potential in Vancouver

SEATTLE — Microsoft is “very bullish” on Vancouver and is lobbying the federal and provincial governments to make increased investments in what it sees as a city with a bright future as a technology hub, the company’s president said Tuesday.

“We have made clear that we think of Vancouver as a second home,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said in an interview at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Seattle.

“We’re growing and I would hope that we’d have continuing opportunities to grow in Vancouver.”

The Washington-based technology company anticipates growing beyond the 750 jobs it initially expected to create in Vancouver when it opened its Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre in June 2016, he said.

The centre, now known as Microsoft Canada, currently employs 800 workers across product development, sales and marketing, and retail and office work, said a spokesman.

Smith said he sees continuing opportunities to grow in the city and doesn’t see a cap to the number of jobs the company could create there.

He stopped short of saying the company could open a second headquarters in the city, but said “it makes sense” for Vancouver to set it sights on wooing Seattle-based tech giant Amazon.com Inc. to open its proposed second headquarters there.

The ecommerce giant announced this month that it is seeking to build a second headquarters in North America. Expected to be equal to its Seattle campus, the new headquarters would likely require a US$5 billion investment in construction and up to 50,000 jobs, the company said.

Smith said only Amazon knows what location will work for its company, but stressed that Vancouver “is a great home for technology and technology companies.”

The Microsoft president is one of the biggest proponents of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor — an agreement signed by B.C. and Washington state nearly one year ago to grow high-tech industries and strengthen collaboration across the region.

In May, Microsoft hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Microsoft CEO Summit and raised the issue of making an innovation supercluster within Vancouver and B.C.

The federal government is committing $950 million to a supercluster program that will give funding to up to five industry-led consortia in a wide variety of sectors, including clean technology, and health and biosciences.

“I think the reaction from the Ottawa delegation was that they hadn’t expected to travel to Seattle and hear a pitch that was basically sounding like it was coming from the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce,” Smith said.

He’s also pushing for Canada to help ease transportation between Seattle and Vancouver, hoping regular seaplane service will begin between the two cities next year.

“Frankly there was little reason not to have it in place this year,” he said. “I think it’s not unreasonable to say we need to move faster in getting that done.”

Longer-term, he wants to see a high-speed rail system between Vancouver and Seattle. Washington state has budgeted funds for a feasibility study and Microsoft has donated US$50,000 toward the study.

“We’re hopeful that there will now be some participation in that on the B.C. and Canadian side of the border.”

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