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Small, but savvy (7/01)

By Dianne Gouliquer The Town of Kirkland Lake is on its way to becoming a technology leader for Northern Ontario.

By Dianne Gouliquer

The Town of Kirkland Lake is on its way to becoming a technology leader for Northern Ontario. In fact, a recent FedNor study has revealed the community is on par with centres in southern Ontario and is, from a carrier point of view, rich in information technology (IT) resources.

Wilf Hass, the project manager for economic development in Kirkland Lake, says the community is positioning itself to accommodate the growing IT market. Specifically, the town is looking at ways to take advantage of existing infrastructure capacities.

"The services that are offered here are frame-relay services" - ATM-based services, fibre optic cable, Centrex switched 56 services and DSL," Hass says.

Northern Telephone and O.N. Telcom are the two predominant carriers in the region, each offering exclusive services. O.N. Telcom provides long-distance services while Northern Telephone provides local telephone services.

Both companies are leaders in the provision of advanced technology services through in-house capabilities and through strategic partnerships.

Northern Telephone maintains strategic alliances with Bell Canada, BCE Inc., NorTel Mobility, Sympatico, Newbridge, Mitel, Nortel Networks, Adcom and Ericsson. O.N. Telcom has partnerships with Cisco, IBM Canada, Lucent Technologies and ONLink.

Hass says these partnerships and alliances have led to the development of a second-to-none telecommunications network in Kirkland Lake that has spurred new economic development opportunities such as the Veterans Affairs Canada call centre. The Department of Veterans Affairs Canada moved its Ontario regional office of 150 employees to Kirkland Lake from Toronto in the early 1990s. Since that time, the regional staff has evolved its operations to keep pace and take advantage of new technologies.

Part of the Kirkland Lake operation includes an incoming and outgoing call centre/benefits processing unit that has become a central processing centre for various economic support and health-care programs that are delivered to approximately 100,000 clients across Canada.

The Kirkland Lake call centre provides fully bilingual service to clients who are veterans, as well as to other Veterans Affairs staff, the general public and providers of services to veterans. This business activity boasts a service level of between 95 and 99 per cent and an abandonment rate of less than four per cent.

The call centre is just one example of how the community's first-rate technology infrastructure has opened the door to new business and created jobs for Kirkland Lake, Hass says.

"(Our) other major advantage is that Northern College exists in the community," Hass says. The college offers

technology courses in "information and communication, ranging from primary office applications to some programming and IT repair."

Hass says the town is working toward a community networking initiative that will build on education, content and connectivity to strengthen the local labour force and give Kirkland Lake a better online presence.

"Education means educating more people on how to use the facilities, to provide them with better skills to serve as a labour force for the IT industry," Hass says. "In terms of content, we want to create a community portal that will give the community a better online presence, but also serve as a platform for the electronic service delivery from the municipal government, for volunteer and non-profit organizations to exhibit what they're doing, and to interact with the community.

"(We also want) to work on a connectivity project. The town is in the process of networking its various departments and we want to tie that to the public sector, like the hospital, to create a broader community base network that can then offer high-speed connectivity - either through fibre optic and wireless, or other technology combinations - to businesses and eventually residents. Right now we're in the planning stages of that; we're looking for partners and we're looking to see what the best models are."

The overall goal, he says, is to extend the IT strengths of Kirkland Lake to the surrounding areas to attract big business opportunities. More can be accomplished if the area communities work together toward common goals, he adds.

He says IT industries will come to realize that Kirkland Lake is progressive and that there are market opportunities directly related to the town, and that the town can serve as a base for further marketing and industry activities for the entire area.