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Yukon's IT crowd: Territory's tech sector is growing

Yukon is known for its mining industry and bustling tourism sector, but a growing group of entrepreneurs in the territory is bringing a new industry to the forefront — information technology (IT).

Information technology sector contributes about the same to Yukon's GDP as tourism

According to the Yukon government, information, communication and technology accounted for 2.7 per cent of the territory's GDP in 2015. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Yukon is known for its mining industry and bustling tourism sector, but a growing group of entrepreneurs in the territory is bringing a new industry to the forefront — information technology (IT).

"The industry is composed of about 600 employees and about 50 companies," said Chris Lane, co-founder of Make IT, a Yukon-based software development company. 

"That makes up about three per cent of [Yukon's] GDP, which is close to the size of tourism."

'People will do it where they love the quality of life,' said Chris Lane, co-founder of Make IT, a Yukon-based software development company. (CBC)

According to the Yukon government, information, communication and technology accounted for 2.7 per cent of the territory's GDP in 2015. In 2014, tourism accounted for 3.9 per cent.

Lane started his company 10 years ago. Since then it has grown substantially, now employing five times as many employees as when it launched.

Lane said some of that growth is because of advantages offered by being in Yukon.

"We are in the Pacific time zone, we have great travel out, and our cost structure is relatively low, compared to San Francisco. Also, we don't get the employee turnover that a lot of the really hot tech sectors do."

People just seem to want to live in Yukon, Lane said.

"The neat thing about technology is that you can do it in different locations, and people will do it where they love the quality of life," he said.

TechYukon, a local industry group, would like to see the tech sector double its GDP contribution in Yukon within the next decade. (CBC)

Some hurdles to growth

Lane is also the president of TechYukon, an industry organization that fosters and promotes the local IT sector. TechYukon's executive director, Rick Steele, points to other jurisdictions where IT has become an integral part of the local economy.

"We can look at the Vancouver and B.C. area as an example," Steele said. "Their IT sector is on par with mining, with forestry, and is more than tourism."

Part of TechYukon's strategic plan is to get the Yukon industry to double its GDP contribution in the next five to 10 years.

Rick Steele of TechYukon says the territory's tech sector has some hurdles to overcome. 'It's really hard to grow an IT sector when you lose internet connectivity for hours or days at a time.' (CBC)

Steele believes it's an achievable goal, but there are some hurdles.

"There are the infrastructure needs that have to be in place," he said. "It's really hard to grow an IT sector when you lose internet connectivity for hours or days at a time."

Along with investing in infrastructure, Steele says, it is important for the Yukon government to continue to use local businesses for its IT needs. He says that provides a stable base income, and allows local companies to expand their workforce.

The Yukon government appears to be on the same page as industry advocates.

"In terms of economic development and growth, small businesses tend to be the catalysts to generate net new jobs," said Steve Sorochan from Yukon's department of economic development.

"Specifically, in regards to tech and companies that have a large tech component to them, the whole idea of economic diversification and not being dependent on mineral prices creates a healthier economy," he said.

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