What tech and innovation are getting — and not getting — in Alberta's budget

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Alberta's 2021 budget is placing an increased spotlight on the technology and innovation sector, setting it up to be a key player in the province's efforts to stabilize after COVID-19. 

Much of the industry is calling the budget a step in the right direction but say the government could have done more to make the sector a winner in 2021.

The Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation will receive $362 million of the $1.5 billion set aside over three years for Alberta's economic recovery. 

Part of that funding will be used to launch a technology and innovation strategy, with the budget outlining the goals to secure a talented workforce, lead the country in investment by 2030 and foster a competitive environment for the private sector. 

"We have green shoots really starting to emerge across Alberta in a whole bunch of industries that are encouraging signs for the future," Doug Schweitzer, minister of jobs, economy and innovation, told CBC News. 

"The tech industry in particular … I believe it's tipped to the point where it's really starting to grow on that exponential growth curve."

What the sector is getting

One of the biggest asks from the sector is being granted through the Alberta Jobs Now program. The initiative will provide grants to eligible employers to upskill or reskill workers for emerging sectors. 

"Supporting existing local tech companies in becoming global brands will send a message to the country, and the world, that Alberta is doing amazing things," said Nicolas Beique, CEO of Helcim, a Calgary company that facilitates online payments.

Jobs Now will receive $136 million over three years and is funded, in part, by federal dollars. Many details — including eligibility and the launch date — are still being finalized. 

It's currently unclear what amount of funding will be provincial and what will be federal. The budget stipulates that the costing profile of Jobs Now "remains subject to federal approval," as the province is waiting for permission to funnel money not spent during last fiscal into the coming year.

Premier Jason Kenney indicated that underrepresented groups and workers would likely get priority access to the reskilling services. 

Schweitzer said retraining programs came up repeatedly in pre-budget conversations with the industry. 

"They know that there are really well educated Albertans that just require a little bit of training and they'll be very skilled and be able to contribute to the emerging tech sector that we have in our province. So this is designed to help with that," Schweitzer said. 

He didn't offer specific details on the program, but said more information would be available in the coming weeks. 

Another $166 million over three years is being poured into the Innovation Employment Grant, which gives small and medium sized firms a repayment of up to 20 per cent of their research and development expenses. 

By 2030, the government estimates technology enterprises will have created 20,000 new jobs and be raking in revenues of $5 billion.