Editor’s note: Behind the Headlines is sponsored by Nelligan Law.
In this Behind the Headlines podcast episode, OBJ publisher Michael Curran speaks with OBJ editors David Sali and Peter Kovessy about some of the week’s biggest local business stories. This is an edited transcript of the panel discussion. To hear the full interview, please watch the video above. Prefer an audio version of this podcast? Listen to it on SoundCloud or Spotify.
MC: The Kanata North Business Association – which represents more than 500 technology companies – made an attention-grabbing pitch to a city committee last week. They proposed having transit operators run autonomous buses along March Road and Highway 417 as well as an AV shuttle service that could be ferrying workers around the area’s tech park as soon as next year. All this carries a price tag of $35 million. Dave, why are economic development officials and advocates for the area lining up behind this vision?
DS: We've known for a while now that Kanata North is a hotbed for autonomous vehicle technology. Several officials said they feel this could really cement Ottawa's status as an AV tech hub and put even more of a spotlight on products that Ottawa is already becoming known for by showcasing it in real-world settings.
MC: One of the biggest stories affecting the local economy over the past year and a half or so has been the skyrocketing prices of real estate in Ottawa. Average home prices are now touching three-quarters of a million dollars, which is up more than 25 per cent over a year ago. Peter, new market data was released last week. Are we seeing any signs of a slowdown?
PK: What we’re seeing are signs of stabilization, although it’s a somewhat small sample size. Average home prices have roughly been constant since around February and March. That’s only a few months of data, so I’m a bit cautious. House prices were flat at around the half-million-dollar mark and even softened a bit in the second half of 2019 before skyrocketing in 2020. But what’s different this time is that inventory levels are at a four-year high. That means less scarcity and more choice for homebuyers.
MC: Eli Fathi is among Ottawa’s most well-known entrepreneurs. He’s helped to found several tech firms in the sector, including online survey provider Fluidware and, more recently, MindBridge Ai – a software firm that uses artificial intelligence to detect potential fraud and accounting errors in financial documents. Now he’s stepping down as CEO of MindBridge Ai as he eases into retirement. Dave, what is the legacy that Eli Fathi is leaving on Ottawa’s tech sector?
DS: He moved to Ottawa as a student from Israel in the early 1970s, gained his master's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Ottawa and went on to build more than half a dozen companies that collectively employed well over 500 people. MindBridge Ai specializes in fraud detection software using artificial intelligence and has become a world leader. Forbes named it one of its top 50 fintech companies to watch. So as Ottawa works to be recognized alongside cities such as Montreal that really have established themselves as AI hubs, Eli has really helped put Ottawa on the map.