Growing the North is Moving Innovation Forward

Randy Vanderveen Photography

Growing the North, northwest Alberta’s prime industry development conference is just around the corner.  Starting with a Taste of the Peace showing local food industry producers and chefs, the Growing the North Conference is all about exploring, much like an adventure.

Being exposed to new ideas is only half the adventure, the other half is delegates working the conference to network with a range of experts on industry topics and community leadership.

Most delegates at this conference will do very well with their personal and operational (internal workplace responsibilities) networking opportunities (see Harvard Business Review table below).  It’s like see old friends and get re-acquainted.


A much more difficult form of networking is at a strategic level.  This targets industry developments and trends at 20,000 feet, putting them into a context of a future scenario, and seeing what it all means today at the community level.  The experienced GTN Conference knows that and in doing so, uses the conference to (1) understand how what is happening in an industry can lead to future likelihoods and (2) building a strategic network from the pool of conference delegates, can help form an action team to do  actionable items today.

“The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another”. It’s about building of strategic leadership to set a course for action.  Once the leadership network  gets a direction, then the personal and operational networks come into play.

“The word ‘work’ is part of networking, and it is not easy work, because it involves reaching outside the borders of a person’s comfort zone.”

Growing the North is an event where networking is encouraged.

How to get the most of industry trends and future opportunities?  When most groups undertake planning exercises, for example strategic plans, they often focus their attention on the short-term with a view to seeking improvements to the present situation: improvements like achieving efficiency, reducing costs, solving an issue and exploring opportunities, all very much in the present day.  GTN encourages its’ attendees to look at major trends and extrapolate a number of scenarios of the future.  Having positive and negative scenarios side-by-side, helps business or community leaders see how their decisions could lead to positive and negative outcomes.  It can help answer the question,

“How do the decisions I make today, support what I want to see or achieve in the future?”

GTN provides outlooks into possible futures.  Couple that, with people who share those outlooks and also more importantly want to do something about the future, and you have the ingredients to form a strategic network on an action item of mutual interest.

internet of thingsFor example, the topic on the Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS will showcase what tomorrow could look like in respect to technology. Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And their future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring their future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

If you are attending Growing the North, let’s meet and share ideas on innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities in your business and community: it’s about moving ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

The Internet of Things



“The Internet of Things is far bigger than anyone realizes” according to Daniel Burris in Wired .


As business or community leaders, you will be seeing more situations where machines talk to machines?  Is it important?  I think so.   And so does Growing the North:   the 7th annual Growing the North Conference is back February 17-18 with another impressive lineup of expert speakers including an Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS.

Machine-to-machine communications is about accessing and using data to make more informed decisions and that is where business is headed.   IofT is about networks of data-gathering sensors that measure and evaluate.  And where it plays out is when machines and sensors are connected to do something smarter, more efficient and effective than has been done before.

The TELUS IofT presentation will include examples of the hospital of tomorrow, just like the new regional hospital being currently constructed in Grande Prairie.


Advances in IofT are encouraging innovators to look at new innovative ideas in their businesses about what and how machines can communicate with each other.  What is interesting about this is, when the innovator presents such a new concept it is easy to understand why it is such a great idea and how the idea will reduce the costs of doing business for potential buyers.  It just makes sense.

I thought that the Internet of Things was leading edge stuff and it is and isn’t.  My favorite starting point for exploring a new subject matter is Wikipedia, it explains IofT’s early history back to 1982 when a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University reported its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold.  It has been around for over 30 years and today we are thinking it’s new.  That is how innovations often work.  It has been there but we don’t see it until WHAM: it is being estimated that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

So what is it and why should you consider hearing about it at Growing the North?


The Internet of Things allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing networks.  These Smart Devices are expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields.  It can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, bio-chip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, field operation devices that assist firefighters and inventory control.

Where they are now?  Look around your home, could be a smart thermostat.

A key component to advancing the IofT has been the development of minuscule identifying devices or machine-readable identifiers or chips.  Add a reader or sensor and relay the data to a software program, hit engage and out pops this intelligence that helps the reader make better decisions.  Wear one on your wrist and immediately know how your heart is doing.

IofT products can be classified broadly into five different categories: smart wearable, smart home, smart city, smart environment, and smart enterprise.

What is the value?  Attend the conference on February 17-18 and learn.


IofT is and will continue to accelerate innovation in the region.  We are working with a group of municipalities and small business service providers to explore such emerging opportunities under a regional innovation network concept.  The concept builds on Centre for Research & Innovation at GPRC as a champion and facilitator of applied research and innovation in the region.  More about the evolution of innovation in the Peace Country, in one of my next blogs.

Whether it is regional innovation networks, IofT or Growing the North, it is about change.  It is about moving innovative ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

LNG – An Innovative Game Changer!

fleets ferusNew business opportunities are often a result of industry undergoing significant change.  For example in the news, Ferus Natural Gas Fuels Inc. announced the opening of their new Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the County of Grande Prairie near the community of Elmworth.

The facility can produce up to 50,000 gallons per day of LNG and scaled up to 250,000 gallons.  It is a regionally focused small-scale plant that will supply local customers.  Almost like a local filling station but different, in that it has the potential to be a game changer and that means new business opportunities.

Ferus sees companies converting their fleets to LNG from gasoline.  Why? The answers could be varied and include reducing emission as environmental standards increase or as costs escalate the need to continually reduce one’s cost of doing business to stay in business.

ferus yard tanksLNG production, delivery and service will be a game changer in how fuel industry will operate.

Is LNG being positioned to be the fossil fuel of choice in North America?  That would be big.

Ask yourself what new ideas and businesses will spring out of LNG being the fuel of choice?

You have a game changer on your doorstep and it’s ringing the doorbell: so, are you open to new opportunities?

Dick Brown, CEO, Ferus

Search out the many news stories circulating and chances are pretty good you will find the name Dick Brown, CEO, Ferus.  He is planning to be in Grande Prairie in February at the annual Growing the North Conference as a major presenter.  Dick could be one of the ‘right’ people to ask questions on the innovations in, and changes to, the LNG fuel industry.  Example questions could include:  what will the fuel industry look like in 5 years; what innovations are needed to have the LNG industry grow in the region; what small business opportunities will unfold in the Southwest County area; and how does a community participate in opportunities involving spin offs from a local LNG facility?

I’m thinking that if you are open to and understand changes in industry and business, then you will be open to new ideas: kind of a combination of being inquisitive and innovative?  Seeing problems or opportunities and doing things differently to improve the situation.

New ideas and innovation surrounds us, the challenge becomes, will you act on your innovative ideas to create new products or services and ultimately new innovative businesses?  For many existing businesses, being open to new ideas and solving problems through being innovative means their business will remain competitive and grow.

To act on the LNG game changer opportunity, call the Grande Prairie Chamber (780-532-5340), attend the annual Growing the North in February 2015 and meet Dick Brown.

To act on your new idea, consider building an innovation resource team that includes the federal, provincial and regional technology development officers and their services.

For your community, consider having technology innovation as one of your community economic development strategies.  It’s about supporting ‘grassroots’ business start-ups and development: it is about encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in your community.

Feel free to leave a comment or give me a call at 780-539-2009.

Aviation Issues

aviationDr. Tretheway started this presentation on aviation with some high level concepts for us to ponder on. Aviation is a nation builder and in Canada it certainly connects our nation and is critical for remote industries like diamond production in the Arctic. This industry was deregulated years ago, except for safety of course. If it hadn’t been deregulated a ticket from Edmonton to Toronto would have cost $5,600 today. Thank goodness for competition! Air service also leads to increased economic activity in a region, provided there is a reason to go there in the first place. West Jet has certainly transformed the economy of places like Comox BC. Dr. Tretheway also brought to our attention the age of the regional airplanes and the fact that there are not really any replacements especially planes that will land on gravel runways like those we have in our Territories. Now that is scary as the North is served by those regional planes.

Next up was Elvin Meyer who talked about aviation issues from a regional perspective. I kind of understood the importance of this mode of transportation but I totally did not understand that the federal government handed over airport responsibilities to municipalities. It sounds like now they view Aviation as a cash cow and do not invest the necessary funds that are required to maintain this very important aspect of our region. I found it fascinating that the biggest competitor for our airport is the car. A significant number of people drive south to get on a plane. For instance when West Jet first went to Ft St John they saw an increase in airport traffic by 45% and there was very little impact on Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie airport, which just means they were going even further south for that plane ride.

Brian Grant took over with a bit of history on the Grande Prairie Airport. Interesting that the choice they faced in 1997 was to take over ownership or close the airport. Now over 400,000 passengers per year use that airport. The vision for the Grande Prairie airport is exciting, by expanding the runway we could get flights direct to the Carribean, Mexico, the Atlantic provinces and even Hawaii. Wow I like how these guys think. The economic benefits or impacts that a local airport has on the local economy seem to be fairly significant and I am glad we seem to have some visionary people at the helm of our airport.

This is the 12th in a series of posts by Janet highlighting the speakers from the 2014 Growing the North Conference.

The Future of Tech Today

MarcMr. Saltzman started off with a quick recap of the smart phone world and other currently available technology. Even though this stuff is currently available and reasonably priced I still feel like it is straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. it is always amazing to me how wonderful this technology is and how much we can do with it. According to Marc we are in the 3rd stage of technology devices. Stage 1 was made up of digital devices that did one thing. Stage 2 saw one digital device do multiple things. Stage 3 which Marc calls the internet of things is where digital devices not only do multiple things but they talk to each other and really we are still only in the infancy of this technology.

We are also in an era of hyper mobility so its not surprising that Marc’s ‘Top Ten Technologies Worth Getting Excited’ included a few very mobile things. I personally don’t have a car that can park itself but I know they are out there and very soon they are going to be completely driverless. One thing that was interesting about Marc’s top ten was these things was that they weren’t just on someone’s wish list they were all due to be released within the next year or two. That means they have gone from napkin designs to actual prototypes. Take the flying car for instance, these are due to be released as early as next year. Park it in your garage (the wings fold) then drive it to the airport to take off. Pricing is a little steep yet at $279,000 but then I have no idea what a small plane costs.

I would have included 3D printing in the current section of Marc’s presentation but that’s just because I have been involved with the GPRC 3D printer: let me know if you want more info on the 3D Printer. Marc highlighted the fact that soon everyone can have one of these in their home and make whatever they need out of just about any material. Speaking of the home I still think one of the coolest video’s I have seen is the one from Corning that has numerous digital devices on interactive surfaces. Check it out on the Corning website: 

I want to share just one more of the technologies Marc highlighted, domestic robots. Its predicted that we will all have one of these by 2025, which is only 11 years away! Not such a stretch when you realize that there are already robot vacuums that sell for as little as $255. Interesting to note that Google bought 8 different robot companies in December. Judging from this presentation my advice to everyone would be sit back and hold on because you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Written on behalf of GPRC’s CRI: this is the 11th in a series of posts by Janet highlighting the speakers from the 2014 Growing the North Conference.

On Agriculture

BrendaBrenda Frank from Farm Credit Canada started us off with a look at agriculture from a global perspective. I found it interesting that when people have increased money to spend the first thing they buy is better food. Canada is one of the few countries that produces more agricultural products than it consumes. I understand how important free trade is so I was pleased to hear about the new trade agreements with the European Union. There are still trade barriers regarding GMOs however Canada has the capability to keep GMO products and non-GMO products separated which allows us to access both markets.

Lots of charts and graphs but Brenda did a pretty good job explaining the slides and making them interesting. Finding the right people for the jobs seems to be the number one challenge in many industries today and agriculture is no exception. Brenda closed with the statement that never has agriculture been so important to Canada and the world, and that we really need to change the conversation to one that encourages enthusiasm about the agriculture industry, especially if we want to attack young people to the industry.

Doug Weinbender from Crop Production Services then took the stage and began his presentation talking about CPS. They recently purchased Viterra assets which makes them quite a big player. Doug shared with us that the Peace Region is about as large as Manitoba in seeded crops so it is an important part of their business. According to Doug the average farm in the Peace Region is about 3500 acres. Farming has become extremely complex, now it’s all about big business and technology. I imagine agriculture is no different than any other industry and technology is significantly changing the way we work and live.

The audience for both these presentations was very much agriculture people. Great information if you are interested in agriculture and thank goodness both speakers did a good job so I did indeed learn something.

Written on behalf of GPRC CRIThis is the 10th in a series of posts by Janet highlighting the speakers from the 2014 Growing the North Conference.

The Beauty of Wood

Demmitt Community Hall

Shafraaz Kaba’s presentation was on ‘Wood Construction Trends and Opportunities’. Mr. Kaba is an architect and he was obviously quite passionate about his occupation. I agree with Shafraaz’s observation that if you are in a place that inspires you, you are more productive and we were shown some really inspiring buildings. I really like the notion that it is important to work with local materials and use local labour as Mr. Kaba’s company did when they built the Demmitt Community building. Shafraaz is a real supporter of wood construction for a number of reasons; construction is easier and faster, wood has great strength to weight ratio and when you are talking beams it is actually safer. Wood beams will retain their strength at a much higher heat, more than double that of steel.

IMG_6835Mr. Kaba is actually doing a project with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) where they are working to create a manufacturing process to dry wood in a vacuum. You have to love the passion of inventors, Shafraaz is using this wood in the construction of his own home. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Luckily for him it looks like they may be successful. He is currently working on a commercial net-zero energy building in Edmonton and if this kind of stuff interests you check out his blog at

Written on behalf of GPRC CRI This is the 7th in a series of posts by Janet highlighting the speakers from the 2014 Growing the North Conference.