Innovation zones, much more than industrial parks

This text is part of the special section Municipalities

Concentration of talent, economic development, high technologies, growth in private investment, Québec’s international influence: all of these expressions often resonate when we talk about the creation of innovation zones, the first two of which were announced in February by the Legault government. But these areas seek to be much more than industrial parks or economic development projects: they also want to be living environments.

“There are different ways of doing economic development and land use planning,” argues Évelyne Beaudin, mayor of Sherbrooke, as her city was one of the first two to be designated an innovation zone with the city of Bromont. We could scatter investment beyond the city, but concentrating them in a given sector with a long-term vision, as we do with the innovation zone, is the approach that I think will be the most long-term winner. ”

An innovation zone consists primarily of attracting talent in a predetermined area around the same field. Their creation seeks to “increase the commercialization of innovations, exports, local and foreign investment as well as corporate productivity”, we read on the Ministry of Economy and Innovation’s website. A zone brings together actors from research, industry, education and entrepreneurship to promote collaboration and innovation.

Last February, the Legault government announced $ 255 million in public and private investment for the creation of Bromont’s digital technology innovation zone, Technum Québec, and $ 435 million for the Sherbrooke quantum science innovation zone, Sherbrooke quantique.

A new living environment

“We had heard about it for a long time. [avant l’annonce]it was not a surprise to Sherbrooke residents, M indicatesme Beaudin. The fear identified in the population was related to the creation of an industrial park. Our challenge is to prove to the public that this is not just a revitalization project in the industrial park, but really the creation of a vibrant environment. And according to her, it’s even simpler to talk about an industrial park when talking about the innovation zone.

The Sherbrooke Innovation Zone will physically connect the University of Sherbrooke and the city center, the two main sectors of the city. “We want to connect them and we want to beautify them so that it is pleasant to move from one sector to another,” illustrates the mayor, who among other things talks about the creation of green spaces and local shops and the strengthening of the industrial heritage. .

“We have closed down industrial buildings in Sherbrooke, as in many places in Quebec, and everyone would be happy to reuse them and improve them,” she continues. If we succeed in translating the vision of the zone on earth, it is not only the people who work in the quantum field who benefit, but everyone. »

According to the mayor, this designation gives a big boost to revitalize and give the city energy. “It allows us to have accelerated development and a global vision to do so,” she says. There are high-tech industries and there is everything around it as we try to encourage mobility, meetings, to create spaces where people can live, play and work. »

The vision of innovation zones actually goes beyond economic development. “In addition to hosting industrial, entrepreneurial, knowledge-based, connected and collaborative activities, innovation zones depend on a diverse environment that promotes quality of life and well-being”, we still read on the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Innovation’s website.

Build on the territory’s existing forces

The Mayor of Sherbrooke already sees the snowball effect that the creation of an innovation zone can create in her city. “Having a devitalized sector requires massive investment and a kind of kick-off to then attract [des partenaires]. As we can see, it is already happening. »

The city had already started revitalization projects in the city center, to which the vision of the innovation zone is finally adhering. And now Ubisoft recently announced its installation on South Wellington Street, where major investments have been made. A very nice surprise for the city, while the Entrepreneurship headquarters is also under construction in the same sector, a six-storey state-of-the-art building that will become a nerve center for entrepreneurship in the area. . Almost every room in this new building has already found people.

According to the mayor, the vision of cooperation that underlies the innovation zones project makes it possible to further develop the already existing forces in her city. “It is already a reflex that we have to talk to each other, the Municipality, the University, Cégep and the private companies that are in the area,” she says. For us, this designation was in recognition of our greatest strengths. Now we have a great opportunity, with the zone, to develop these partnerships so that it can go even further. »

The same goes for Bromont, while the Technum Québec innovation zone relies on forces already in place, namely an industrial and educational ecosystem already recognized worldwide in the field of intelligent electronic systems. Private companies such as IBM Canada, Teledyne Dalsa, Aeponyx and C2MI, a world-class collaborative innovation center, have already established themselves there.

“Already in our research park, we could count on companies known in the field of digital technologies,” says the mayor of Bromont, Louis Villeneuve. In addition to being a new impetus in our industrial sector, Technum Québec is a good showcase for our city and our region. . »

According to Economy and Innovation Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, other cities could get the green light this year, and even this summer, to develop their innovation zone. About 30 projects have been submitted for the creation of innovation zones, including the cities of Quebec, Montreal and Rouyn-Noranda. Quebec wants to make ten of them a reality.

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