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Booming business: tech startups in Halifax heading downtown

From across his modern work space with its shiny hardwood floors and pops of blue from the painted beams in the ceiling, Andy MacLellan can look through his enormous windows at an active downtown.

MacLellan is president and founder of Verb Interactive, one of several tech firms finding a happy home on Barrington Street.

“We put everything into this and it's been so good for our culture. We have people flying in from all over the U.S., Canada to see us and they say they never thought a space like this existed in downtown Halifax,” he said.

Two Dalhousie University grads, unhappy working for someone else, started their own operation in 2004. They moved to Barrington in the old Roy building in 2008 for the cheapest rent they could find. Then in April they moved into a 10,000 square feet spot above the old Sam the Record Man building.

“We're a digital marketing agency that specializes in hospitality and travel marketing,” he said. “I think word in Halifax is just getting out in the last 18 months that ‘wow, I can't believe this company is in Halifax.’ We have 91 people on the staff now and it's pretty wild.”

Last week, Mayor Mike Savage told the Halifax Chamber of Commerce that tech sector employment in Halifax has jumped 50 per cent in the past five years.

“Halifax ranks high in tech talent across the country putting us ahead of startup darlings like Waterloo and bigger cities,” Savage said.

“As startups move into the upper floors along Barrington Street and elsewhere... they are quickly becoming part of the personality of our place.”

For MacLellan, the answer to “why Barrington?” is easy.

“It puts you in the core of everything and it attracts the right talent. That's a big thing,” he said.

Many agencies are setting up shop in Bedford, Burnside or Bayers Lake, but MacLellan said if they want to attract the best talent being in the heart of it all helps.

“We created a great space where people can come to work, it's a fun environment. We have beer on tap here, but if people want to go out after work it's right there too,” he said.

Adam Conter, vice president of Starfish Properties, said start-up tech firms are looking for character spaces which fit their lifestyle so they can attract and maintain staff. He said Barrington has received a lot of attention in the past three years.

“We've attracted not only a great deal of young and mature start-up companies in the tech sector but we're also very attractive to those in the creative sector, the communications sector, public relations and marketing,” Conter said.

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