More work space needed for city’s tech industry

Imagine heading up a company whose growth sees an increase in staff from five employees to 45, all within two-and-a-half years.

Imagine heading up a company whose growth sees an increase in staff from five employees to 45, all within two-and-a-half years. It’s a success story, but for Jason Morehouse of Checkfront, it also meant moving the business five times within that period.

In a business environment where landlords tend to want one to five year leases, that success can quickly turn into a monumental challenge.

That issue, amongst others, was the focus of a forum in Victoria recently sponsored by the Urban Develpment Institute (UDI).

According to Kathy Hogan, UDI’s executive director, the forum resulted in some much needed interaction between developers, realtors, brokers, architects, engineers and tech sector entrepreneurs in attendance at the forum.

“We heard that the tech sector is all about flexibility,” said Hogan. “These companies, particularly the software developers, are not necessarily looking for the A-level buildings with all the modern amenities. B and C level buildings are, in many ways, more desirable as they have a funky charm and can be adapted to the needs of the tech industry with very few issues.”

Rasool Rayani, co-founder of Metalogix Software and currently an investor in other software start-ups, was a speaker at the forum, and agrees Victoria needs to do more to understand the needs of the tech sector.

“We need pragmatic space. For example, elevators are not a requirement but florescent lighting is a complete turn-off,” said Rayani.

“The space doesn’t need to be polished, but we do need good broadband. Open space is fine, with an accommodation for some meeting space and the potential for growth and movement without lease restrictions.”

Rayani went on to call for more flexibility for live/work spaces wherein residential properties are used as office space and residential.

“Before my first business start-up in Vancouver we operated out of a residential building. There were no restrictions for use by a software company and it worked really well. In Victoria, there are currently some zoning restrictions preventing this sort of dual use and it’s too bad, since a lot of residential space can be very easily modified into an office for the tech industry,” he said, adding his James Bay and Fairfield are ideal areas for that sort of dual use.

Beyond the availability of appropriate work spaces, the tech industry is also challenged to find living accommodations for an expanding workforce. Victoria’s downtown vacancy rate is nearing zero per cent, and for a younger workforce whose preference is to work within walking distance of work, restaurants, shopping and entertainment, the lack of availability of housing is a significant issue.

“It’s also tricky when we’re trying to bring in new staff who are currently working remotely and are unavailable for apartment viewings,” said Morehouse.

“We’ve had to get directly involved, not only providing letters of reference for our staff to prospective landlords, but at times providing cash guarantees and co-signed leases to help them to qualify for the rentals,” he said, adding the competitive housing market downtown has necessitated the strategies.

“We’ve talked to Mayor (Lisa) Helps about the issue and expressed our belief that rental housing in the downtown core has to be a priority for the city and everything possible should be done to expedite developments to provide more housing options…it’s vital.”