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Cold climate makes city prime data centre country, says economic development manager

The city's economic development manager aims to turn Prince George's cold climate into a selling point. It's one of the attributes Melissa Barcellos will be emphasizing when she showcases the city as a place to establish a data centre.
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The city's economic development manager aims to turn Prince George's cold climate into a selling point.

It's one of the attributes Melissa Barcellos will be emphasizing when she showcases the city as a place to establish a data centre.

"Data centres can generate a lot of heat and one of largest costs is cooling them," Barcellos said in an interview. "So if we have weather on our side, that's definitely a bonus."

Throw in the city's "fibre redundancy" and the lack of earthquakes in this region and Prince George should be able to attract tier one, two and three data centres, according to Barcellos.

Tier four is the highest level - the equivalent to the data centres used by the U.S. government. Tier one, two and three centres require only one redundancy while tier four calls for multiple redundancies.

Contrary to popular belief, data centres can be big employers.

"There's a myth that they don't actually provide a lot of employment when in fact they do," Barcellos said, adding about 300 people work at a centre in Barrie, Ontario, operated by the Bank of Montreal, and most of them are in high-level information technology positions.

As for attracting people with the necessary skills to work in Prince George, she noted that College of New Caledonia offers courses in IT.

"So some levels we would be able to train here," Barcellos said.

Promoting the city as a place to establish a so-called "green" data centre is one of three areas the city's economic development office is focussing on in terms of business attraction.

The other two are more obvious fits for the city, given its history - forestry-related high technology and engineered wood products.

"One of the areas you're supposed to focus on is clusters because you're able to support multiple businesses in that cluster and forestry is a big opportunity for us to build on rather than trying to start clusters," Barcellos said.

"Of course we do that as well, but because of the other services and other businesses locally, we can serve new businesses in that industry."

The areas were identified in October and a three-year work plan has been developed. It goes as far as highlighting companies looking to expand.

"We'll be taking a really proactive approach at attracting these types of businesses to Prince George," Barcellos said.

The economic development office replaced Initiatives Prince George, which operated at arm's length from the city. Located at city hall, the office employs four people, half the number IPG had on the payroll and has saved the city about $500,000 per year, Barcellos told council on Monday night.