Canada’s Minister of National Defence Harjit Saffan (left) and Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr (centre) were given a tour of the new Okanagan Centre for Innovation in Kelowna Wednesday by Accelerate Okanagan CEO Raghwa Gopal (right).—Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Updated: Defence minister in Kelowna

Harjit Sajjan tours innovation centre, KF Aerospace and will appear at public event in Lake Country.

Update: 1:58 p.m, July 12:

Canada’s Minister of National Defence says he’s impressed with the work being done in the Okanagan to grow the tech sector.

Harjit Sajjan was given a tour of the new Okanagan Centre for Innovation in Kelowna Wednesday and came away saying it’s important the federal government knows what’s being done across the country in order to figure out how to support it.

Innovation has been high on the federal government’s agenda since the Liberals took power in 2015.

Sajjan was told the Okanagan now has 650 tech companies, employing 8,000 workers with 52 per cent of them under the age of 35. And the industry is growing here quickly.

The tech industry has an economic benefit to the region of $1.3 billion, said Accelerate Okanagan CEO Raghwa Gopal, who gave the minister and local MP Stephen Fuhr a tour of the sparkling new six-storey high-tech building at the corner of Ellis Street and Doyle Avenue.

Despite still having workers completing finishing touches inside the building, 25 companies have already set up shop inside, including a number of small tech firms, two credit unions and Okanagan College. UBC Okanagan is also slated to have a presence in the building, which has two direct connections to the main downtown public library where the university has its electronic library space.

Sajjan said he was particularly pleased to see the educational component associated with the innovation centre because it will be important to provide a knowledgeable workforce for Canada’s desired new innovation-based economy going forward.

Gopal said change is also afoot in this area when it comes to retaining young graduates from post-secondary education institutions. He said where an estimated 70 per cent of graduates said in the past said they planned to leave this area once their studies were complete, now between 50 per cent and 70 per cent say they plan to stay.

The innovation centre received from both federal and provincial funding, as well as land for the building from the city of Kelowna and private investment. Part of the building acts as an “incubator” to help new tech start-up companies get up and running.

Following his tour of the innovation centre, Sajjan was scheduled to take a tour of KF Aerospace (formerly Kelowna Flightcraft), which already has a number of contracts with the defence department.

Original story

Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, is in Kelowna today and will appear at a “meet and greet” event that is open to the public in Lake Country this evening

Sajjan, along with Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr, was scheduled to tour the Okanagan Centre for Innovation downtown Wednesday morning and KF Aerospace (formerly Kelowna Flightcraft) at the Kelowna airport later Wednesday afternoon.

The evening event in Lake Country is scheduled for the Ex Nihilo Vineyards Winery at 1525 Camp Road in Lake Country between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Earlier this week the federal government pledged support for B.C. in its fight against wildfires raging throughout the Interior. Ottawa says it is making military personnel available to be used in the firefighting effort.

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