Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr might be one of the only people able to list military experience, aviation technology and business, and politics on his resume. We had a chance to sit down with him recently to talk about what the Okanagan Centre for Innovation (OCI) will mean to his community.
As the recently elected MP of Kelowna-Lake Country, Stephen’s primary job is advocating for the community and ensuring their needs are met. In addition to being MP, he is the Chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence.
After spending some time with Stephen, it’s clear his passion lies in community building and diversifying the Okanagan’s economy, something he strongly believes the Okanagan Centre for Innovation will help to spearhead. As someone who’s travelled the world, he cites world class skiing, golf, wineries, distinct seasons and community spirit as being a large benefit to calling the Okanagan home. These are all things he believes will draw in potential OCI tenants and grow the industry. Listing “academia, tech, agriculture and tourism” as Kelowna’s major industries, Stephen believes the increased focus on tech will “see the community accelerate”.
When asked directly about his initial impression of the OCI, Stephen said “I think it’s a great idea. You know, when you’re trying to attract smart people to come to a place to innovate and create, you’ve got to have the right mix of things. You have to have a community that people are going to want to come to. I think the OCI is going to be a place where people want to work”. At the end of the day, he believes people are creative and will be driven towards an atmosphere that both breeds and inspires creativity.
As someone who’s had his fair share of working in diverse business environments, Stephen agrees that creating mutually beneficial partnerships is a must when considering an ideal working space, something that he believes the OCI will offer. "I think that whatever business you’re in, or whatever you do, you’ve got to make sure that everyone can win. It’s a function of continuing to make sure that everybody gets something that they want out of the deal. As long as you’re generous with that thought, those relationships will last”.
From the politically positive perspective of diversifying the community, Stephen sees the OCI acting as assurance that the tech industry will continue to grow in the Okanagan. “I believe it will stimulate the economy. Like the old adage says, if you build it they will come. I’ve seen the drawings, I’ve visited the website and I’ve talked to people about what the plan is. The whole one stop shop idea encourages creative collaboration. It’s something that I think will attract people to the OCI and Kelowna in general”.
Having successfully grown a company during the recession, Stephen also believes that the OCI will offer long lasting benefits to the community regardless of economic ups and downs. “It’s like your own investments. If you invest, you want to diversify in case something goes down, you could come out stronger by having something else come back up”. Ever the optimist, he believes Canada hasn’t reached its full potential and there’s room for Canada to grow in tech and innovation.
Moving forward, Stephen views the OCI’s biggest offering as the ability to grow the Okanagan community. “The country’s developing a digital-knowledge based economy, which is right in OCI’s wheelhouse. I think focusing our efforts on something that’s going to be beneficial to us in the future, commercializing knowledge if you will, speaks directly to that”.
Finally, when asked to describe what OCI means to him in two sentences, Stephen doesn’t miss a beat when saying “opportunity”. One word captures it all. “I’m a big fan of diversification. Even the way this came together, the team behind the OCI is a really great example of a bunch of innovative minds coming together. Those are the types of people you want running the OCI. I have a lot of high hopes, this place is a marvel for how we can do things differently and do them better”.