COVID-19 concerns push annual Kanata North talent fair to October


Kanata North’s largest business advocacy group said Thursday it is postponing its annual career fair and tech expo in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, while one of the tech hub’s biggest employers said it was closing its offices after one of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The Kanata North Business Association has decided to reschedule its flagship Discover TechNATA event from April 8 to Oct. 5, marketing and events lead Deborah Lovegrove said Thursday afternoon. 

More than 80 exhibitors had registered to take part in next month’s event at the Brookstreet Hotel, Lovegrove said, including locally based firms Assent Compliance, BlackBerry QNX, Kinaxis, Ross Video and You.i TV as well as global tech giants Cisco, Huawei and Nokia.

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Exhibitors and other participants who’ve already bought tickets will be eligible for a full refund if they choose not to attend in October, she said. In a news release later Thursday, the organization said it is looking at hosting a “virtual career fair” later this spring that will match job-hunters with potential employers.

A day-long gathering of tech industry professionals, investors and job-seekers, Discover TechNATA drew more than 3,000 people last year, attracting visitors from as far away as Halifax. With Ottawa now reporting its first cases of the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 140 Canadians and nearly 130,000 people across the world, organizers said they felt it was better to err on the side of caution and delay the event until the fall.

“It’s really grown substantially,” Lovegrove said of Discover TechNATA. “We can’t take that risk right now. We have to make safety our No. 1 concern.”

The KNBA’s announcement came one day after tech heavyweight Ciena said an employee at its Kanata office had tested positive for COVID-19, Ottawa’s first confirmed case of the virus.

The man, in his forties, recently returned from vacation in Austria and is now in self-isolation. Ciena director of corporate communications Jamie Moody said the company has closed its campus on Terry Fox Drive until March 17, which is about two weeks after the man was last in the office. All of the company’s roughly 1,700 Ottawa employees have been asked to work remotely until then. 

“We continue to closely monitor the situation and update our restrictions and guidance to employees very frequently,” Moody said in an email to OBJ on Thursday.

The COVID-19 outbreak has already prompted other local firms to rethink their work and travel plans as the number of cases continues to rise and companies around the world curtail business travel and pull out of trade shows and other mass gatherings.

Late Thursday afternoon, Kanata-based software startup accelerator L-Spark said it was moving its annual SaaS Showcase online. The graduation event for the accelerator’s latest cohort had been slated for March 31 at the Brookstreet Hotel, but organizers said that out of concern for participants’ health and safety, they would be hosting the event in a “new, virtual way” and would issue refunds to anyone who’d already purchased tickets.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify said its 5,000-person global workforce will be going fully remote as of next Monday. Another Kanata North company, Epiphan Video, said it has also told all of its roughly 40 employees to stay home until further notice as a precautionary measure. 

“There are a lot of companies that are trying to figure out what they should be doing,” Lovegrove said. “It’s certainly a hot topic for sure.”

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