The new Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade says the Province of Ontario needs more of the kind of tech-fuelled growth and innovation he found during a visit to Waterloo Region Thursday, and pledged to do what he can to help the region’s companies by clearing red tape and getting them access to additional talent.

Jim Wilson, MPP for Simcoe-Grey, was making his first visit to the region since the election of the Doug Ford government last June, and said that he found the degree of talent and innovation in the region to be “overwhelming.”

“We’re going to learn from this sector in this geographical area,” Wilson said. “Because you’re way ahead of where government is. If we’re going to be truly open for business [as a province] we need to learn from many of the fairly young, bright minds here that have started companies [and] been successful.”

Wilson and a delegation which included Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris toured Communitech and Velocity as well as several of the region’s technology companies. They met with a number of CEOs and company founders, several of whom described the problems they encounter specifically when dealing with the provincial government on gaining access to government contracts. Wilson said he heard them, loud and clear.

“It’s embarrassing that startup companies or even established tech companies can’t do business with their own government because we put too many barriers in place,” Wilson told Communitech News, when asked what stood out for him during his visit. “I’ve been an MPP for 28 years [and] I didn’t know it was as bad as it appears to be.”

Wilson said that talent, and specifically the lack thereof in the the tech sector, is another area that he found to be eye-opening and in need of redress.

“We’re not funneling the talent through our secondary, post-secondary systems the way we should to actually address the jobs that are available,” the minister said. “I’m also shocked to a certain extent – you read it in the media once in a while but when you actually meet the CEOs – to find they’re looking for thousands of people that have the right skill set and [that] our education system is doing a very poor job of matching skill sets or training to the jobs that are available.

“We need to get on top that.”

The minister said the new government is committed to removing red tape and making it easier for companies, including those in this region, grow and succeed.

“If we need to get out of their way, if that’s a big part of the problem, that’s something that doesn’t cost the taxpayer money. That’s just doing smart regulation that’s consistent with the needs of the tech industry.

“We’re always looking for ways to do things better without costing the taxpayers a big pile of money.”

Wilson, who has held a number of ministerial portfolios over the years, including Minister of Energy, Science and Technology in the late ’90s, said the visit helped reacquaint him with the issues of the technology sector and allowed him to see first-hand some of the products under development.

“Pretty cool,” he said, after listening to Mike Kirkup, Chief Technology Officer at Encircle, describe his fast-growing company’s solutions for the insurance industry.

“[It’s] great to come to Communitech where, in a relatively short period of time they can give you a real cross section of not only talent in the area but where they want to go, where [the] jobs are being created in our economy and a sense of the red tape and barriers the government has put in place that we need to remove,” Wilson said.

“Ontario is open for business and Premier Ford is very much wedded to that and wants to make that happen … one of the top priorities is open business for the tech sector.”