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Oshawa to be “major player” in tech sector

A recent announcement will see Oshawa become one of six areas to receive funding to help spur studies and innovations surrounding autonomous vehicles

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A recent announcement is set to position the City of Oshawa and Durham Regional to become a hub for autonomous vehicle development and testing.

The Ontario Centres of Excellence, with funding from the province of Ontario, is set to put up to $5 million into developing the region into one of six Regional Technology Development Sites (RTDS) as part of the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) project.

The dollars, to be funnelled through Oshawa’s Spark Centre, are aimed at accelerating development in autonomous vehicle technology and creating a talent pool to service the industry.

The announcement is only the latest shift in Oshawa as the city attempts to position itself as a more tech-focused city.

“It puts us as the cornerstone, the centrepiece for a lot of product development and product testing and so that means anybody who is actually looking to really sort of get into that whole area, that whole network, take a product to market, good chances they will be coming through Oshawa,” says Kyle Benham, the city’s director of economic development. “It’s just a great opportunity I think for us to make a wider range of companies aware of the assets we’ve got here in terms of UOIT, Spark, etcetera and then to showcase the city to potential investors as they’re sort of coming through.”

Accoding to the OCE release, studies and testing will take place both inside the UOIT’s ACE Climactic Wind Tunnel and at Durham College and would create opportunities to work with entrepreneurs at the Spark Centre. Of the six RTDS created as part the AVIN each will have a particular focus, with Durham set to have a focus on “human machine interface and user experience.” The other RTDS include Hamilton, Ottawa, Southwestern Ontario, Toronto and Waterloo.

For Benham, he sees the AVIN announcement as only the start of future investment and business in the city.

“We’re at this very interesting time, I think, in terms of mobility in general. So autonomous vehicles are part of that whole sort of sharing economy piece. So there’s a lot of those things that are going to be coming together over the next number of years and to the extent that we’ve got really a strong asset base in things like UOIT,” he says. “But then also to the extent that we’ve got a strong engineering base in terms of the skill-set of the residents that are within our area as well as sort of the pipeline that colleges and universities have. It really does position us to be a major player in that whole transformation.”

However, with that increase in demand comes the need for a fresh and ready supply of land should businesses look to invest in locating their companies in the city. While residential development has boomed in the city’s north end, industrial development remains at fairly stagnant. Benham says that may change as the city prepares to get the Northwood Business Park serviced and fully prepped for development.

“I think we’re pretty close to being able to move forward on that now,” he says.

Generally encompassing the area between Oshawa Creek and the Whitby-Oshawa boundary, and Taunton Road West and Highway 407, the future 262-acre business park could potentially become a hub for tech development in the city.

However, similar to many of the city’s other future industrial sites, coming to an agreement with the Region of Durham to building services such as water and sewer to the sites has been a stumbling block.