Homegrown Innovation in the Kootenays
Metal Tech Alley
Welcome to Metal Tech Alley: A cluster of industry and technology companies leading the fourth industrial revolution, all from the Trail region, with a population of less than 10,000 people.
When the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation (LCIC) set to work creating an economic development strategy for the area, they assessed its unique characteristics and strengths. A big takeaway from their research was the realization that their biggest asset lay in embracing the community’s strengths in metallurgy and technology, instead of trying to be something they weren’t.
As the Lower Columbia Initiative Corp. embraced the unique strengths of the area, the game-changing Metal Tech Alley economic development marketing strategy began to take shape. The strategy aims to promote the story of the West Kootenay region’s evolution into a highly attractive and competitive location for business and livability, with a major focus on the global business and innovation clusters that are leading economic and business change—not just in the region, but from a global perspective.
The Lower Columbia Initiative Corp. looked closely at the features of the area that made it attractive for metallurgy and tech companies, including:
- Over 100 acres of cost-effective industrial land
- Broadband connectivity
- Easy access to the U.S.
- A global supply chain of companies located in the area
The Metal Tech Alley strategy was developed over a four-year period with support from, among others, the Columbia Basin Trust and the B.C.'s Rural Dividend Fund. The marketing strategy and brand was launched in May 2017, following collaboration and feedback from community organizations, business leaders and community officials.
Who makes up the Lower Columbia Initiative Corporation?
The Lower Columbia Initiative Corp. is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lower Columbia Community Development Team Society and is a partnership between the Columbia Basin Trust, the five municipalities of Trail, Rossland, Fruitvale, Montrose and Warfield, and electoral areas A and B of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.
The Evolution of Metal Tech Alley
A key part of Metal Tech Alley’s progression has been the MIDAS Fab Lab, a public-private enterprise started by the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST), a non-profit regional organization dedicated to the technology sector; Teck Metals, the world’s largest integrated lead-zinc smelter; and Fenix Advanced Materials, a private company experienced in the commercialization of metallurgical industry by-products.
MIDAS supports academic research and development partnerships, business incubation services, and offers a dual sector fabrication lab and equipment in metallurgy and advanced/digital manufacturing.
“For me there's a love of this notion that tech is in industry, you just have to explain it differently so these companies see themselves,” said Erin Handy, executive director of KAST. “You talk to them on their own terms. You tie it to their actual livelihood and demonstrate how they can benefit”
Picking up where MIDAS leaves off, a recent addition to Metal Tech Alley is I4C, an international Industrial Internet of Things hub, and a production and testing facility. I4C supports early-stage Internet of Things qualified companies in research and development, light fabrication, commercialization and/or distribution.
Metal Tech Alley is leading the fourth industrial revolution by building collective partnerships and supporting businesses at all stages, with its cluster of companies in metallurgical and intelligent materials science, industrial matter recycling, and the Industrial Internet of Things.
A great success of the initiative has been bringing together municipalities and businesses from the entire region around a common vision and consistent messaging.
By unifying the message, the whole area is able to promote an overall vision with greater impact than any one locale could have on its own.
Lessons learned and final thoughts:
For Terry Van Horn, executive director of Lower Columbia Initiatives Corp., a key lesson learned has been to use a single branding and communications company that understands the mandate and can handle all components of the marketing strategy - including content and media creation - to ensure a consistent message and avoid the extra work involved with dealing with more than one company.
Helping an “industry town” realize the ways that tech and innovation is integrated into their work also sometimes presented a challenge. For busy businesses focused on their products and customers, helping them connect to the overall vision and see themselves as part of a larger innovative community took a concerted outreach strategy.
“We are teaming up to tell this story better, the story about why our region is a magnet for continued investment into these integrated industrial clusters,” said Van Horn. “This is the fourth industrial revolution, evolving right in front of us and we are leading it with our visionary collaborators who understand the endless opportunities to cluster both industry and brain power.
“We are connected globally yet choose to live here, in the Trail area, which is renowned for its lifestyle, but it’s also remarkably accessible to global markets with the availability of industrial and commercial lands that are so affordable they’re almost free (for now).”