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B.C. tech poised to capitalize on U.S. pandemic stumbles

Freer international travel, more progressive immigration policies among B.C. advantages
Kardium CEO Kevin Chaplin (left) with president and COO Doug Goertzen | Chung Chow

On any other year, a summer trip from Vancouver to Germany might consist of river tours and beer gardens.

But when Kevin Chaplin arrives it will be all business as the CEO of Kardium Inc. oversees the launch of his Burnaby-based company’s medical device.

While travellers going through Canada’s border face a mandatory 14-day quarantine here, no such constraints face Canadians like Chaplin upon entering the European Union after the organization lifted restrictions on 14 countries June 30.

Travellers from the U.S., Russia, India and other countries with high infection rates of COVID-19 still face tight restrictions in the EU, leaving Canadian businesses with an advantage over some of their biggest international competitors.

Chaplin said he’ll now be ready in “just a few weeks” to launch Kardium’s device, which is used to more efficiently treat atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart clots, strokes and heart failure.

The metre-long tool, the Globe Mapping and Ablation System, just received its CE certification from the EU, and Kardium has set up a branch office in Germany to handle sales and clinical support for its first market.

Engineering and marketing teams remain based in Canada, but Chaplin and others from B.C. will be at the German office to rub elbows (figuratively, that is, in the age of COVID-19) with potential customers such as electro cardiologists treating atrial fibrillation.

“We just want to make sure we’re onside with all of the travel restrictions that are in place and can have our employees travel there safely,” said Chaplin, who acknowledged that the disadvantage is that he and his team will have to quarantine in Canada for two weeks after returning home.

But like many other firms, the CEO said his company has adjusted quickly to the new normal of working remotely.

Will Stewart, a Canadian economist and business growth adviser based in New York, anticipates freer travel in and out of Canada as well as a more welcoming immigration system has already positioned the country well for growth across several sectors.

Last month, the Trump administration suspended certain immigrants from entering the U.S., citing concerns over unprecedented unemployment numbers brought on by the pandemic (the June unemployment rate in the U.S. was 11.1%).

Workers include those entering the country on H-1B visas for skilled workers, those of particular interest to the U.S. tech sector.

The move potentially puts Canada on the receiving end of more skilled workers who could be employed within the Canadian operations of an American tech firm.

However, the future of traditional offices versus remote work remains unclear as the pandemic unfolds.

Canadian tech giant Shopify Inc. (TSX:SHOP) had announced plans in January for a 1,000-person office in Vancouver before reversing course in May with the West Coast office now slated to serve as a “recruitment hub” for the company as the workforce goes remote.

In a tweet, CEO Tobi Lutke said his company would be keeping its offices closed until 2021, “and after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office centricity is over.”

U.S. firms such as Mastercard Inc. (NYSE:MA), Tipalti Inc., Grammarly Inc. and Inc. (Nasdaq:AMZN), which announced plans to expand in Vancouver prior to the pandemic, have all said those plans have not changed.

“Adding ‘Canada as a safer business partner’ across sales-team talk tracks is definitely something I’d be looking into if you’re regularly pitted against U.S. competitors,” Stewart said. “It isn’t just about the ability to fly to Europe, it’s also about establishing confidence your business is going to be a safe and reliable partner through these turbulent times.”

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