Kinaxis HQ in Kanata.
Jim Bagnall / Postmedia
If you really want to understand why traffic in Kanata has become such a chore for commuters, there’s a simple explanation. High-tech, and the firms that serve it, have been doing very, very well.Consider the recent experience of two very different tech firms on opposite ends of Kanata. In the southwest corner, software giant Kinaxis — which hosted its annual shareholders meeting Friday — is outgrowing its headquarters building at 700 Silver Seven Rd., prompting a search for additional office space.Since it first issued shares to the public in 2014, Kinaxis has expanded from 260 employees to 600. While much of the more recent growth has occurred overseas, the Canadian workforce — nearly all of it in Kanata — has jumped from 190 employees to nearly 400.The need for more hiring isn’t expected to diminish. Kinaxis is in the business of making heavy-duty software that allows multinationals to track orders, inventories and other elements of their very complicated supply chains. The company’s revenues are expected to grow an average of 20 per cent this year and next to more than $210 million U.S. annually. The market value of Kinaxis this week topped $2.2 billion Cdn.Employment growth has been even more dramatic at Syntronic R&D Canada, which maintains its operations in the northeast section of Kanata. Unlike Kinaxis, which is a home-grown pioneer with three and a half decades of history here, Syntronic is a wholly-owned unit of a Swedish company. It makes its living helping other high-tech firms with R&D and related projects.In 2014, Syntronic executive Hans Molin arrived in Ottawa from his native Sweden to start operations here.
Hans Molin, president of Syntronic R&D Canada.
His timing was superb. BlackBerry, which had extensive hardware operations in Kanata, was getting out of the business of making smartphones, which meant dozens of experienced engineers were suddenly available.Syntronic quickly scaled to 25 employees, most of them former BlackBerry experts. Then, a near disaster as the first customer — Molin declined to name the company — underwent a worldwide restructuring and closed down its Syntronic contract. That was in 2015. “It was a bumpy ride,” Molin said Thursday with some understatement at a fifth anniversary celebration hosted by his firm.Syntronic didn’t panic, however. Its well-connected engineers fanned out across the Ottawa region, hunting for customers in need of R&D services. “If you stand on our roof and look at all the corporate logos,” said Darrell Wellington, the first BlackBerry engineer hired by Molin, “most of the names you see are now our customers.”Indeed, Syntronic’s Kanata workforce is approaching 300. Molin says he is hiring at the rate of 100 per year. “I don’t see a target date when that would stop,” he added. “Five more years? I have no idea.”What’s driving this? Consider the customers he’s serving. There’s Ericsson and Nokia, companies in the thick of the race to provide fifth-generation wireless technologies in competition against China-based Huawei Technologies. (It’s telling that Syntronic does not do business with Huawei). Mitel, another Syntronic customer, is a leader in the business of telecommunications software, and QNX makes operating systems for self-driving vehicles, another industry with a big future.These and other clients are investing billions of dollars in the drive to keep their technologies fresh, which suggests the need for R&D services such as those provided by Syntronic will be strong for years to come.Is there enough raw talent in the Ottawa area to do the job? Molin acknowledged some concern on this front. “Help us grow the next generation of engineers here,” he said in a short speech before a handful of municipal and federal politicians, guests of his company’s celebration. “The Nortel generation will not be here forever,” he added.The latter was a reference to the thousands of former Nortel engineers who are scattered throughout Ottawa’s tech industry. Many are approaching retirement age.The biggest contingents of course work at Ciena, Ericsson, Avaya and Ribbon Communications, companies that acquired pieces of Nortel out of bankruptcy court. Ciena, an optical communications specialist, is firing an all cylinders.All told, tech firms across Ottawa employ roughly 50,000. Nearly half work in Kanata, which has acquired some critical mass.One of the lessons of Nortel’s breakup for electronic engineers and other tech workers is the importance of diversifying their personal risk. They are attracted to clusters of tech firms for the simple reason that, if their first choice goes bankrupt or restructures, there are other firms nearby such as Kinaxis or Syntronic, where they can continue their careers. Is the cluster here healthy enough to entice newcomers to the area?The heavy traffic suggests that it is.ALSO IN THE NEWS:Transpo is focused on launching LRT, but mayor’s election promise requires attention on electric buses‘Humiliating’: Black uOttawa student cuffed in campus carding incidentJohn McCrae SS yearbooks withheld over ‘inappropriate messaging’