Fredericton's Innovation District

  • Mara
  • 2017-02-16



We are republishing some great articles that we wrote for the Dialy Gleaner last year. They reflect the hard work, thought, and vision of so many of our city's business leaders, innovators, educators, and city staff.

Fredericton's Innovation District

In December, we explored the City’s journey of diversifying from a government/university town to a thriving knowledge-based economy, investing in digital infrastructure, and earning global brand equity as a ‘smart city’.

In this month’s column, you will learn about what’s happening in our Innovation District.  The concept of innovation district evolved from another key deliverable of the city’s first economic development strategy, Vision 2000.  It was to develop a ‘knowledge corridor’ by creating a technology and research park, and leveraging assets like the universities and research and development organizations.

Having started my career in economic development in 1992 with the launch of Vision 2000, I had the privilege to be involved and at the forefront of the conceptualization of Knowledge Park.  It was Mr. J.W. Bud Bird, former Chairman of the Greater Fredericton Economic Development Corporation (GFEDC), who envisioned the park, and who approached the former UNB President, Dr. Robin Armstrong, to lease UNB lands to enable the park construction.  Mr. Bird understood that it was communities like Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle who were churning out innovative companies, creating high value jobs, and fostering a clustering environment to spur continuous growth through tech transfer from the universities.  The type of growth, which snowballs to support other sectors like retail, restaurants, arts & culture, and professional services.

After a large scale effort to engage the City of Fredericton, the Province of New Brunswick, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the University of New Brunswick (UNB), GFEDC spearheaded the design and construction of the first building.  With a can-do attitude of “if you build it – they will come”, a makeshift floor was poured of asphalt and a billowing white tent erected to officially kick-off Knowledge Park.  With several hundred people in attendance and even a jack rabbit bouncing through the tent, Knowledge Park was soon to become a reality in 1995.

Today, Knowledge Park (show current picture) has grown to five buildings on its 26 acre campus with potential future development plans for sixteen buildings.  The park is home to 30 companies with the likes of formerly Radian6, CGI, Blue Spurs, and Skillsolft, employing over 800 people, and generating $125+ million in annual GDP.  Revenues from the park have been re-invested back into economic development through the creation of a startup accelerator at Planet Hatch, and helping to bring the one-stop entrepreneurial hub concept to fruition. 

(show graphic - see attached doc) Knowledge Park and UNB are the anchors of the Innovation District, which is a two kilometre radius between the park, UNB and the downtown - encompassing academic institutions and over 60 research and development organizations. 

No other New Brunswick city has such rich and varied research expertise and support organizations like NBCC’s MobileFirst, the Maritime College of Forest Technology, the Research & Productivity Council, BioNB, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Agriculture Canada’s Potato Research Centre, etc.  

With UNB producing over 75% of the province’s university related research, 25 research chairs, 20 research centers and 65 laboratories - there are some incredible things happening from biomedical engineering to cyber security to planetary science on the campus!  Take a moment to watch this UNB video.

So why did we create Knowledge Park, and package this unique combination of assets into the Innovation District? First, it was to enable tech transfer from the universities to a clustering and commercialization environment for knowledge-based companies.  Second, it was to foster a ‘Living Lab’ environment to attract companies looking to outsource their product development. The best example of this is Siemens, who established in the park because of access to the university talent pipeline, R&D network, and digital infrastructure with GoFred’s lowest cost gigabit connectivity.  In Fredericton, you have a scaleable model for product development, and we want to attract more global companies like Siemens!

Home to over 70% of New Brunswick’s knowledge-based companies, the knowledge industry is our oil sands.  It is where we have seen continuous, positive growth, and it’’s where there will be good paying jobs tomorrow. 

Next time, we’ll talk about some of the important initiatives underway to plant the seeds for continuous growth like the work of innovation pioneer, David Alston’s, Code Kids movement.  Stay tuned…