How the B.C. budget will affect Metro Vancouver’s technology industry

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      In the run up to last year’s general election, the B.C. NDP campaigned on a platform of housing affordability and childcare savings. Those big-ticket items formed the backbone of yesterday’s budget announcement, but buried in the figures are some important decisions for the B.C. tech industry.

      Much of it is good news for the sector.

      The budget ensures the extension of the interactive digital media tax credit until August 2023—a move that will benefit Vancouver’s thriving videogame industry, VR and AR technologies, and educational software. Handing back 17.5 per cent of salary and wages to companies producing products that combine text, sound, and images, the credit has helped early stage businesses across Metro Vancouver overcome start-up costs. Announced yesterday were two modifications that will aid accessibility to the scheme. From February 22, organizations participating in the Small Business Venture Capital Program will be able to claim the credit, as will corporations whose annual B.C. labour expenses exceed $2 million.

      The document also confirms funding for additional post-secondary places in tech-related fields through to 2021. That continues the province’s promise to invest $100 million in university-level learning, and builds on Advanced Education, Skills and Training Minister Melanie Mark’s commitment to increase the number of seats and financial support for tech programs.

      The province also approved funding to previously announced STEM projects for K to 12 students.

      Also of note are the budget’s bold moves to address housing affordability and the high price of childcare. Although wages in the tech industry are around 85 per cent higher than the average B.C. salary, many skilled international workers find the cost of living prohibitive, and those wishing to be parents choose to move away from the city to raise a family. The document’s new policies on a 20 per cent foreign buyers tax, a two per cent speculation tax, and subsides for childcare on a sliding scale aim to make Metro Vancouver—and its tech jobs—more accessible.

      The document also contained less positive news.

      From January 1 2019, the province will introduce a payroll tax that will affect employers with a labour force worth $500,000 or more. The tax rises at progressive rates, with a maximum of 1.95 per cent for employers with payrolls of $1.5 million or above. This new scheme puts pressure on medium sized companies, and could potentially threaten the growth of startups into mature businesses.

      In all, the budget highlights how B.C.’s tech sector is thriving. Currently generating $29 billion in revenue, the province is home to over 10,200 business, and supports upwards of 106,000 jobs. Over the next 10 years, the industry will benefit from a share of a $950 million investment from the federal government for the B.C.-born Digital Technology Supercluster. On top of that, links to the U.S. from the Cascadia Innovation Corridor continue to strengthen, as does Metro Vancouver’s reputation as a hub for sectors like videogaming to data processing. The NDP’s policies support the development of the region's startup ecosystem, and will provide a boost in home-grown talent to the tech industry.

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays