Prospectus: Building Ottawa as a smart city – and an education city

Shaw Centre

In each issue of the OBJ newsmagazine, publisher Michael Curran shares his prospectus for the Ottawa business community. Read the March edition of the newsmagazine here.

Carleton University’s newish president was the keynote at the Mayor’s Breakfast in February, speaking to a jam-packed crowd of business leaders in city council chambers. As I delivered welcoming remarks from the podium, I realized that not one, not two, but three post-secondary presidents were sitting beside each other: Carleton’s Dr. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Algonquin College’s Cheryl Jensen and uOttawa’s Jacques Fr​émont. (It should be noted that Lise Bourgeois of La Cité is a regular attendee, too.)

Universities, like businesses, are hypercompetitive. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is an intense multimillion-dollar competition for students among local universities and colleges. Nevertheless, here were Ottawa’s post-secondary presidents sitting beside each other in solidarity.

Way beyond seating positions, there seems to be spirit of co-operation and renewal in post-secondary education in the nation’s capital these days.

Bacon (who couldn’t resist joking that attendees were getting a healthy serving of their favourite breakfast meat with him as guest speaker) spent some of the address talking about the concept of Ottawa as an “education city.”

It’s an intriguing idea.

All the aforementioned post-secondary institutions met in November to “develop more integrated stackable academic programs and shared research shops that will help find solutions to challenges faced by businesses, non-profits and governments.”

That’s a bit tough to decipher, but the “education city” initiative has real potential.

If you were to make a list of Ottawa’s competitive business advantages, the preponderance of universities and colleges would surely be in the top five. (We often forget that Ottawa is easily home to about 100,000 post-secondary students at any given time.)

The “education city” concept isn’t the only notable development in the local post-secondary sector.

There is a remarkable infrastructure boom on local campuses, particularly when it comes to business, entrepreneurship and STEM. Separately, these projects have received some attention, but let’s zoom out and consider the total impact.

This academic year, Algonquin College students are settling into the $45-million DARE (discovery, applied research and entrepreneurship) District, a mashup containing an Indigenous entrepreneurship hub, energy lab, library and analytics centre.

On the other side of town, La Cité recently opened a 40,000-square-foot addition called Excentricité. The French-language college says the $30-million centre will allow companies to work with students to develop business concepts, create prototypes and commercialize products.

Back downtown, uOttawa’s Engineering School took a step into the 21st century with a $115-million STEM complex that will “become the core of its own discovery district on the main campus.”

Plus, for the first time, the Sprott School of Business will have a proper home on Carleton University’s campus when the 100,000-square-foot Nicol Building opens in fall 2020. The cost of this $48-million investment was partially covered by the late, great Wes Nicol, who donated $10 million to the school to continue his vision of entrepreneurship.

It doesn’t take a Telfer accounting grad to tally this up. That’s a total of $250 million in new facilities in 12 months.

While it’s true that buildings alone won’t move the yardstick on entrepreneurship and STEM, state-of-the-art facilities, when combined with modern programs and top-flight educators, will tend to attract the best and brightest.

If the economic test of 2020 and beyond is about attracting and retaining young talent, Ottawa gets a passing grade in semester one. Collectively, can the universities and colleges demonstrate mastery when it comes to our education city?

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On the road to a smarter city

What is smart city technology and how is it going to change the everyday lives of Ottawa residents? Find out in our special report that takes an in-depth look at how the latest technology is aiming to make driving, parking and interacting with City Hall easier and why Ottawa is perfectly suited for Canada's largest autonomous vehicle test track.

In addition, check out regular sections such as Techopia and OBJ.social and find out why Ottawa startup Spoonity is gaining customers around the world with its point-of-sale technology.

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