The USNR facility in Salmon Arm is one of nine for this company, the world’s largest manufacturer of wood processor equipment, photo by Jim Cooperman

Now, in addition to rich agricultural land, magnificent lakes, and productive forestlands we can add brainpower to the list of Shuswap resources given the remarkable growth of the local high-tech sector. Throughout this region there are over 140 technology-based companies, and within Salmon Arm there are 82 high-tech firms employing over 700 people.

A sawmill optimizer, one of the high-tech controls manufactured by USNR

Salmon Arm has the eighth highest per capita employment in the province for high-tech manufacturing and is the leader in the Thompson-Okanagan. Products include sawmill equipment, robotic devices, electronic controls, consoles, and custom power units. Key to the success for these companies is a trained workforce, and within a few years there will be a specialized “mechatronics” program at Okanagan College that will combine robotics, computer science and electrical and mechanical engineering for a two-year diploma program.

 

The “hot-desk” space in the new Innovation Centre

The Salmon Arm Economic Development Society’s (SAEDS) new Innovation Centre serves as an incubator hub for the sector with its meeting rooms, office spaces, and a “Makerspace” in the basement where keen people of all ages can access woodworking, electronics, 3-D printing, and virtual reality and robotics equipment. Small businesses rent offices and have access to Wi-Fi, printers, meeting rooms, the lunchroom and the rooftop patio. There is also the “hot-desk” space that individuals can rent by the day instead of using a coffee shop.

One of the robots used for the Innovation Centre’s Robotics Workshops

One way that SAEDS supports the sector is by focusing on the emerging workforce. This year was their third “Tech Meet-up” at Salmon Arm Secondary, where students mingled with representatives from 25 local businesses who set up booths filled with information about their services and products.

One of Salmon Arm’s leading high-tech corporations is USNR, at the former Newnes facility near the Industrial Park, where 175 employees build and service sawmill optimization equipment. These tools are designed to work a very fast pace, as in modern sawmills, boards move as fast as 200 per minute and the optimizers do the grading and determine where cutting is needed. This is a very competitive industry, and there are four other companies in Salmon Arm that also build sawmill equipment.

At Valid Manufacturing, the business has moved far beyond metal fabrication and now it has 40 engineers doing high-tech design work, including research and development. One of their current projects is developing a small-scale centrifuge that removes the nitrogen and phosphorus from liquid manure for dairy and poultry farms.

A very innovative company in Salmon Arm is Technology Brewing that recently moved to the former Okanagan College campus, which the city has now deemed a high-tech zone. They design and build robotic and scanning systems for a wide variety of industries and businesses. For example, their unique dough scoring system has been successfully working at a bakery for eight years and their 3D machine vision automated train unloading system has decreased the time it takes to unload 100 cars from 4 days to 4 hours.

Some of the products developed at Technology Brewing

Whereas one of the challenges to expanding local high-tech manufacturing is attracting a skilled workforce, this situation is improving due to the extremely high cost of housing in the lower mainland. Young engineers are now eager to move here, especially because of the Shuswap’s attractive outdoor lifestyle, and our proximity to one of Canada’s best ski resorts at Mt. Revelstoke.

POSTSCRIPT

A study done for Salmon Arm to determine how the community rates in terms of the qualities needed to attract high-tech companies found that the city was outstanding in terms of prosperity, safety and commuting distance. Two of the issues identified that need improvement includes nightlife and promotion.

Okg. College trade Program administrator Brent Moffat and S.A. Economic Development Society Manager, Lana Fitt relax on the Innovation Centre’s roof-top patio

The Innovation Centre is part of the plan to support the high tech workforce. Most of the building’s offices are now occupied and the workshops have been well-attended. In front of the standing desks in one of the offices, there is a treadmill that helps to keep the office worker in good shape! Learn more at innovatesa.ca

USNR Salmon Arm began in 1912 as the Newnes Machine Shop, which moved from its downtown location to the near the industrial park a few decades ago where it  manufactured sawmills. The facility is now part of the world’s largest wood processing manufacturer that has eight facilities in North America and one in Sweden. The SA facility focuses on building and servicing the optimizers used for automated wood processing equipment,which now uses electric servos rather than hydraulics or air. The company is often looking for skilled employees.

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