Dawson Honey, Revit modeler at Pitt Meadows Plumbing, left, looks over the plans for the Arch mechanical room, a project at a new condo complex downtown Vancouver. BIM manager Matt Main stands in the background. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Dawson Honey, Revit modeler at Pitt Meadows Plumbing, left, looks over the plans for the Arch mechanical room, a project at a new condo complex downtown Vancouver. BIM manager Matt Main stands in the background. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge, room to grow in innovation and technology

Local companies paving the way.

This is the sixth and final

installment of a series on

innovation in emerging cities.

A skilled labour force, one that works in the community in which it lives, is key to building an innovative city.

That is the common thread business leaders say is needed to develop industry and attract high-tech companies to set up shop in Maple Ridge.

Part of making that happen is having post secondary opportunities in the city, along with infrastructure, including high-tech centres or commercial spaces that incorporate retail, business, and living space all in one building.

Oliver Perez, founder and president of MultiTrends ITNet, an IT service company in Maple Ridge, says there’s a lot of opportunity for the city to pull itself out of its bedroom-community mentality.

He would like to see technology centres located in the core of the city.

“First floor is your retail, coffee shops, and a place for lunch, places where people would go,” Perez explained.

“The second floor would be those business offices, those high tech areas where people can collaborate. Then there is also the ability on the third, fourth and fifth floor, it’s residential. If they can do things like that, it’s going to attract businesses,” Perez said of Maple Ridge.

Coun. Tyler Shymkiw, on the city’s Economic Development Commission, agrees.

He believes the city needs to focus on other aspects of the live-work-place spectrum, like attracting employers by focusing on the fact that Maple Ridge is a great place to raise a family and experience the outdoors.

Unfortunately, he says, Maple Ridge hasn’t set aside enough industrial land over the long-term to create a healthy balance between residential and commercial taxpayers.

“Residents are stuck with higher taxes because of the lack of a commercial and industrial tax base. It also has resulted in a dearth of local employment opportunities,” said Shymkiw, adding that Maple Ridge needs to be aggressive both in land use issues and in creating the regulatory environment to bring agile new innovative industries here.

He also believes that the city needs to continue to focus on the infrastructure needs of high-tech industries, including pushing forward on fiber connectivity.

Right now, Perez says, it’s difficult to find office space in Maple Ridge. This has resulted in high-tech companies being spread out across the region. They are not encouraged to move into a centralized area.

Perez has experienced this issue first-hand with real estate agents wanting to show him areas outside Maple Ridge that they feel are better suited to his business.

“We need to compete and we need to be competitive if we want to bring in that high-income business owner that has high-paid employees into our community.”

Perez’s company started off as a IT service company that provided hardware or software and support. It merged into a managed service provider, taking over the IT for a company. Now it is a cloud-managed service provider, where businesses access all their data and applications virtually.

His company has eliminated the physical and capital costs associated with a business having a network and data physically in an office space. MultiTrends takes care of it all by subscription, like paying a Hydro bill.

“The IT services are provided as a service. They don’t have to have the in-house resources to maintain it anymore,” explained Perez.

“It’s a very clean manageable cost of doing business to them,” he added.

This makes it easy for Perez to have his West Coast office headquartered in Maple Ridge.

“Location isn’t important. People’s mindsets have improved when it comes to Maple Ridge. It is not as far as it used to be,” said Perez.

This technology is also making it easier for businesses to attract skilled workers by providing flexibility that today’s Millennials see as normal.

“The ability to work wherever they want, when they want. Not having to come to the office on a schedule. But to be able to work when the work is there or required,” said Perez.

“[The] employer benefits because things get done and the staff member benefits and can be where they need to be. It’s a win-win,” Perez continued.

Education is another key Perez believes is necessary to build a technologically innovative city.

Better relationships have to be developed, he added, between businesses and post-secondary institutions.

“Nowadays, there is a lot of emphasis on people recognizing post-secondary education and how it just can’t be something that is just within that university,” said Perez.

“University and business owners have to communicate with each other and talk about how, not only during a post-secondary process, but after, what businesses are seeing, they’re needing to do or being requested of to retain top talent,” he continued.

In his industry, Perez says that the average term of employment for Millennials is two years.

“In IT, it’s definitely, two years is a long time. If you have employees five years, then you are very, very fortunate,” said Perez.

He says it is important to retain employees by offering them cross-training in the company.

“These Millennials or younger generations, they like to be challenged, they like to learn new things and cross training, allowing them to work in different areas of a company, helps with that.”

More and more larger companies offer internal training and professional development programs in partnership with post secondary institutions.

This is a feature of Pitt Meadows Plumbing, the largest employer of apprentices in the industry north of the Fraser River.

Like many industries, Pitt Meadows Plumbing chief administrative officer James Zelinski said there is a skilled-labour shortage.

But those in the industry are working to resolve that by bringing more people into the trades.

To attract the next generation, the company pays competitively and offers perks, like running shuttles from its site in Maple Ridge to projects in downtown Vancouver.

The company also has a partnership with Pacific Vocational College that is approved and authorized through the Industry Training Authority, so it can run a plumbing apprenticeship school at its main facility.

“Our apprentices don’t have to leave. They just come right here to our main shop at our facility here and we run the training program right here,” said Zelinski.

The plummer apprenticeship program is four levels, plus an additional 6,420 of work hours. No experience is necessary, everything is done at the facility, “and at the end, they write their Red Seal exam and their inter-provincial and they become a journey-person,” said Zelinski.

Welders only have to do three levels of school and 4,600 work hours, that is done in partnership with Kwantlen University.

The partnership Zelinski is most proud of is the one with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district.

“We are just in the process of hiring our fourth [recruit] from the current class from the plumbing pre-foundation program that Garibaldi [secondary] runs,” said Zelinski.

He is hiring students straight out of secondary school programs and giving them jobs.

“They come out of that the equivalent of their first level of plumbing and a certain number of hours. Then we just put them to work and teach them the trade on our sites and in our shops,” he explained.

Zelinski said to retain employees, the company offers a diversity of work.

“We have projects that are going on across the country, so we give them the opportunity to try their hand working up in Penticton, working in Whitehorse, working in New Brunswick, working on different types of projects from design build projects like the Penticton regional hospital to standard high-rise towers like Rogers West or Rogers South,” he added.

One of the challenges for Pitt Meadows Plumbing is to bridge the gap between senior journeymen who have been with the company for a long time and the new Millennials who don’t have the knowledge of the trade, but are great on the technological side.

Pitt Meadows Plumbing builds large-scale commercial, institutional and commercial construction projects, like at hospitals, prisons and schools, and prefabricates as much as possible before sending items to site. More and more of the work is now on the tech side.

“All of our drawings are done online now. We use project management software,” explained Zelinski.

“We run an entire crew of computer modelers here to basically take whatever is on those paper drawings and actually build 3-D models of it that we can then go and give to our prefabrication shops to actually build things on site,” he said.

They also use virtual reality.

“We’ve got goggles where you can actually put these goggles on and walk into a space and we can show you what an entire mechanical room will actually look like. It’s fundamentally reshaping our industry,” he continued.

On site, Zelinski has five or six computer modelers, called the Building, Information, Modeling team. Members model up the item they are going to build. Then it is handed to the workers in the shops who build it. Then it is sent to site.

This allows the company to build things in a controlled environment rather than on a site.

Zelinski is convinced that technology and pre-fabrication is going to continue to drive the industry.

Currently, 35 per cent of the Pitt Meadows Plumbing work force lives in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Zelinski wants people to know that the company is embracing technology and moving forward that way.

He said the company is committed to the city and is looking at developing an area to build a new head office and a new pre-fabrication shop.

“We were founded here. We’re not moving from here. We love it here. Our head office is here. Two of our pre-fabrication shops are here,” said Zelinski.

“We’re committed here so we want the city to embrace the value that business brings and what innovation actually does.”

Shymkiw believes the city has a long way to go, but is moving in the right direction.

“We’re well positioned for the industries of the future, but bringing them here will take relentless energy, focus, and some bold decision-making,” he said.

• Maple Ridge is hosting an Innovation in Emerging Cities forum on April 4 at The ACT, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The forum is meant to be a catalyst to foster an innovative and creative culture for industry, government and education. It will feature keynote presentations from Steve Dotto on “How technology is changing everything” and Dr. Salvador Ferreras on what businesses need to do to prepare for “Industry 4.0.”

Panel discussions featuring leaders from industry, post-secondary education, First Nations and government will follow up keynote presentations.

The forum will also include a trade show, as well as the code-a-thon, involving students tasked with development apps for the city’s new open government portal.

A new website, innovate.mapleridge.ca, has been set up by the city to promote the free event, and on which participants can register.

 

Dawson Honey, Revit modeler at Pitt Meadows Plumbing, left, looks over the plans for the Arch mechanical room, a project at a new condo complex downtown Vancouver. BIM manager Matt Main stands in the background. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Dawson Honey, Revit modeler at Pitt Meadows Plumbing, left, looks over the plans for the Arch mechanical room, a project at a new condo complex downtown Vancouver. BIM manager Matt Main stands in the background. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Marisa Arnold, left, is going to be a journeyman welder in six months, and Mel Christensen just finished the program two weeks ago with Pitt Meadows Plumbing. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Marisa Arnold, left, is going to be a journeyman welder in six months, and Mel Christensen just finished the program two weeks ago with Pitt Meadows Plumbing. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

(Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)                                Pitt Meadows Plumbing chief administrative officer James Zelinski says there is a skilled-labour shortage.

(Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS) Pitt Meadows Plumbing chief administrative officer James Zelinski says there is a skilled-labour shortage.

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