Nine months after opening its doors, Sudbury’s Northern Centre for Advanced Technology’s (NORCAT) Commercialization and Innovation Park continues to roll out the red carpet for companies big and small as it plans to expand its ever-shrinking supply of shop space.
“I’d love – and it’s no secret – to get 3M to have their mining division in Sudbury, not in Waterloo, and I’m still working on that every day,” says Darryl Lake, CEO, NORCAT.
“When they say, ‘Yep, we’re moving,’ I don’t want to have to say, ‘Sorry guys, we’re out of space.’”
On the eve of its official grand opening in late September, NORCAT’s 60,000-square-foot business incubation and training centre had already maximized the use of its available shop space. This has forced officials to look at an expansion to the rear of the site located on Maley Drive.
Four companies have already spoken for the as-yet-uncreated space, which is being tentatively pegged at 5,000 square feet. However, the full extent of the expansion will depend entirely on how much government funding can be raised, because “the industry can’t afford any money for us,” says Lake.
The province has already committed $1 million to the expansion and federal support is still being sought.
“We will be expanding, it’s just a matter of when.”
Although the $10.6-million centre was designed with this kind of future growth in mind, it was not necessarily expected to happen so soon, says Lake.
However, Lake is mindful of the potential problem of overbuilding, where excessive empty space could give the impression of being unsuccessful. This means that the centre’s growth must be carefully measured.
This cautious approach is necessary, he says, to remain an attractive location for creative and ambitious companies, not only from Northern Ontario, but from outside the region as well.
“The target that we’re really going after is getting those southern companies that supply the mining industry to consider Sudbury,” says Lake. “We’re saying to them, ‘Why don’t you come up and try us? You can have this space at NORCAT for one month, five months, three years, as long as you’re innovating.’”
In recent months, the centre has been abuzz with activity, complete with new tenants and new funding. This includes the receipt of nearly $20,000 from FedNor in August to study and commercialize innovative health care products and practices in Northern Ontario.
The popularity of the building was on full display during its grand opening which was attended by a full and bustling crowd of 150 representatives from industry and academia.
The event earned no shortage of praise for Lake, with warm words stemming from all corners of the city, from Mayor John Rodriguez to MPP Rick Bartolucci to Cambrian College president Sylvia Barnard.
“When you book your space in this building, the currency is energy, ideas and ambition,” said Michael Atkins, who serves not only as president of the Laurentian Media Group but also as the chair of the NORCAT board. “You’re here to expand your business and your possibilities.”
The companies under Lake’s roof certainly share that point of view, according to Dave Dillon, director of research and development with Niagara Falls-based Dura 21.
Taking up a 2,400-square-foot space at the rear of the NORCAT building, Dura 21 is researching the use of cryogenics to enhance the durability of equipment metals across a variety of industries. As such, the value of NORCAT’s centre goes beyond the availability of space among like-minded innovators, Dillon says.
“Primarily, the biggest gain in being here at NORCAT is Darryl,” says Dillon.
“He understands public and private industry, he understands governmental bureaucracies and he understands entrepreneurial ventures. There’s nobody in Northern Ontario we’ve come across that can direct us like he can, and he’s been a wonderful supporter and a wealth of knowledge for us.”