Justin Trudeau, Microsoft president Brad Smith open new Vancouver technology centre

Christy Clark, Gregor Robertson help celebrate launch of Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre

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      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined B.C. premier Christy Clark and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson in welcoming Microsoft president Brad Smith to Vancouver today (June 17) to open his company's latest development centre.

      The state-of-the-art downtown Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre (MCEC)—located at 725 Granville Street above the Nordstrom store in a renovated 142,000-square-foot facility—houses a variety of departments, from games and apps design to mixed-reality and accessibility products.

      At the morning opening ceremony, the MCEC was being touted by the municipal, provincial, and federal politicians as a prime example of job creation, with up to 450 new jobs created and an estimated $90 million injected into the city economy annually.

      A view of the open-plan space for workers in the new Vancouver facility.

      “We invested over $100 million to build this facility,” Smith told those gathered in one of the conference rooms, “and thank goodness it looks so good.”

      The facility, a blend of West Coast woods and bright primary colours, is an office workers’ paradise. LED screens and long whiteboards litter the space; as activity swirled around them, many employees worked quietly with 3-D modelling software.

      “We believe in the future of British Columbia,” Smith said before conceding the podium to Trudeau. “We believe in the future of Canada.”

      Trudeau, after a mention of his knowledge of computer code, said: “For a geek like me, it was an absolute thrill to see in action the technology that Microsoft has developed.

      B.C. premier Christy Clark addressed the opening crowd as well, along with Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson (far left).
      Colten Dom


      “There is no better time to invest in Canada,” Trudeau said. “I welcome Microsoft’s decision to add as many as 450 new development jobs to their Vancouver operations—it is a real vote of confidence in the community and in the talent and expertise of Canadian workers.”

      Premier Clark spoke passionately about Vancouver’s tech-savviness and openness to foreign investments—but not before taking a shot at U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

      “While we see people talking about building walls south of the border and keeping people out that they don’t like or don’t agree with, in Canada, in British Columbia, we choose very carefully and purposefully a very different direction, and that is to open up our province to the best and the brightest around the world,” she said. “Rather than build walls, we want to tear them down.”

      “We want you if you are smart,” she added.

      Clark also addressed early tech education, saying she wanted to bring in “coding as a mandatory language for children starting in kindergarten till Grade 9, so that coding becomes the unofficial second language of British Columbia”.

      Bright colours enliven the new workspace.

      Mayor Robertson praised Vancouver's role as a leader in technology jobs. “It’s no coincidence that Vancouver’s nation-leading economy is also the home to world-class tech talent filling 75,000 technology jobs, with another 15,000 expected in the next three years,” Robertson said. “Vancouver’s diverse and entrepreneurial tech ecosystem is a big draw to leading global companies like Microsoft who, time and time again, choose Vancouver as a centre of innovation and excellence.”

      After the news conference, MCEC director Edoardo De Martin sat down for a brief interview with the Georgia Straight.

      “This is the best,” De Martin said with a laugh when asked about his job. An SFU grad from a small town in the Fraser Valley, he said he was impressed with Trudeau, Clark, and Robertson's engagement. “They’re so cooperative for businesses, and it’s just an honour.”

      De Martin noted one of the ways the new centre was getting involved with its Vancouver home. “We’re doing something...in Kitsilano with a classroom and a OneNote team, where they’re actually working together with [a] classroom,” he said. OneNote is a digital note-taking app that gathers typed notes and handwritten work, drawings, and screenshots and organizes them for easier use.

      “The teacher is saying, ‘If OneNote was organized a different way, this would help me teach my class better,’ and then sends that [suggestion] to a coder right here. The coder redeploys a couple of feature changes and says, ‘Hey, how did that go?’ "

      He added: “If we have the opportunity to engage with a customer directly—directly with someone where we can make a difference in their lives—we’re going to do that the best way we can.”

      Microsoft, well known for its video-game platform Xbox One, showed off its latest headliner game, Gears of War 4, at last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. The game has been developed by an MCEC team.