The geek and the grail 

Knowledge industry project gains steam in Squamish

As a typecast, the geek has often been a pitiful figure. Rejected by peers, doomed to basements lit only by computer screens and forever polishing his glasses, the geek has always had much to offer. He may not be the star quarterback, but he knows the source code for things most of us can’t even use. His girlfriend doesn’t know about their relationship, but he can do her homework with his eyes closed. And yet, he never really gets his due.

For Squamish, the geek might just be the central figure in the town’s next economy, which, if the Squamish Sustainability Corporation (SSC) is successful, will be based on the knowledge sector.

Of course, these aren’t your typical geeks. These men — and, yes, women — can be rugged and vocal, athletic and strong. It might help to think of them as Nouveau Nerds. Either way, they’re what SSC business development lead Dave Thomson has called pioneers in building a homegrown knowledge based industry (KBI).

Thomson, along with colleague and SSC director Brent Leigh, appeared before Squamish council this week to offer an update on their work developing KBI in Squamish.

“It’s important to understand that KBI isn’t about building computers,” he said. “It’s about the people building computers. So it’s about the entrepreneurial spirit.”

That spirit was present in spades just a few weeks before, when about 30 nouveau nerds assembled in the Adventure Centre for the SSC’s fourth Inside Edge New Media Gathering.

“What Squamish has done a lot is chase the Holy Grail,” said Leigh during a brief speech on the district’s flirtations with the industry. “Unfortunately, the land use was never there. But we’ve shifted from that.”

And so, at this week’s strategy session, Leigh and Thomson offered council a land use vision, which revolves around a cluster of land in the northern end of the Squamish business park.

“If we move in this direction with council,” said Leigh, “it would be after doing research and discussion with industry. It’s a little like imagining (Quest) university here eight years ago. It’s a big fish.”

Cue the boos. Council didn’t react well to the idea of centralizing the industry in those environs. Councillors Mike Jenson and Corinne Lonsdale spoke up against the idea. In Jensen’s view, the industry would take better root downtown. And Lonsdale agreed.

“For the most part,” she said of the industrial park, “these lands are privately owned. They’ve got existing zoning on them.

“It’s nice to have this little discussion, but what you need to do is to sit down and for you to be more definitive on where these businesses will be and what it means for the landowners. It probably means a public meeting.”

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