The Communitech Hub is a “world class” facility that shows Waterloo Region’s tech sector is not only alive and well, but growing in unanticipated ways, federal cabinet minister Tony Clement said during a visit Thursday.

“Obviously what’s happening here is world class,” Clement said in an interview after his first official tour of the Hub in downtown Kitchener’s Tannery complex. “A lot of the aspects of it are unique, and they’re absolutely critical to our long-term ability as a nation to be innovative and competitive.”

As President of the Treasury Board of Canada, Clement is essentially responsible for making sure federal government activities are properly carried out. He therefore has an interest in the performance of Communitech and its national offshoot, the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN), both of which have received federal investment.

After a tour led by Communitech CEO Iain Klugman, Clement came away impressed with how startup companies, large corporations, universities and others have turned the Hub’s 44,000 square feet into a teeming cauldron of entrepreneurial innovation.

That cauldron, which opened in 2010 expecting to house 30 companies, now counts 120 among its residents, Klugman said.

“To have a major retailer like Canadian Tire here, that was a big surprise to me as well,” Clement said of the iconic company’s bold foray into retail innovation, which began at the Hub earlier this year.

“I think that really opens the door to a different level,” he said. “One of the challenges we face in Canada is productivity with some of our established giants, and to have them here, I think, is a very good signal.”

Clement also remarked on the importance of the CDMN, a Communitech-led initiative to link Canada’s tech hubs together for the benefit of all.

“This is a national endeavor,” he said. “Of course it’s about Waterloo Region, of course it’s about Ontario but it’s also about Canada’s future as well.”

Asked what he would tell his cabinet colleagues if asked about his visit, Clement suggested recent challenges at BlackBerry have created inaccurate perceptions about the broader Waterloo Region tech community.

“I think there’s been a lot of doom and gloom about Waterloo, but I think that is actually not the reality,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here that needs to be supported; that indicates that the environment is still thriving, and in fact, going off into directions – in a positive way – that nobody could predict even a year ago.”

“So I think that’s very good news for all of us,” he said.

After the tour, Clement attended a forum on “open data” at OpenText’s headquarters on the University of Waterloo’s north campus.

Open data is a worldwide movement that refers to the free availability of government information online, which Clement calls “the natural resource of the 21st century.” In June, he led the launch of, Ottawa’s new portal for thousands of government datasets.

OpenText, a UW-spawned startup that grew to become Canada’s largest software company, is a global leader in data management, with $1.2 billion in sales last year. It thus occupies a front-row seat in the emerging field of “big data,” which represents untold billions in potential revenue for entrepreneurs who can find uses for the world’s ever-growing mountain of online information.

In an interview with OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea, Clement called the open data program “a critical value-add for our country” that not only makes the workings of government more transparent to Canadians, but could unlock vast opportunity for enterprising app developers.

Clement then took part in a panel discussion, moderated by Klugman, with three Waterloo Region entrepreneurs: Cedric Jeannot of I Think Security; Fahad Siddiqui of The Display Rack; and Gareth MacLeod of Tinkercoin.

There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, consensus that open data holds much promise for tech entrepreneurs, given the potential value of vast amounts of credible and readily available government information – everything from weather data and border-crossing wait times to hospital outcomes.

“I think the most exciting thing…is that we don’t know the coolest things that are going to come out of it,” MacLeod said. “With open data, the best thing about it is that other people find these amazing ways to use it.”

Jeannot added: “I don’t think a lot of people realize yet how powerful it’s going to be.”