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Varcoe: Amazon to set up cloud computing hub in Calgary, creating more than 900 jobs and $4B investment – Calgary Herald

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Amazon Web Services will be setting up a new cloud computing hub in Calgary, bringing more than $4 billion in investment with it over time — and creating more than 950 full-time jobs across Canada.

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The tech giant, which provides customers with cloud-computing platforms and related services, announced Monday it will establish a major “infrastructure region” in the Calgary area.

It will be the second Amazon Web Services (AWS) regional hub in Canada, consisting of at least three data centres, and will add to the existing 25 geographic regions that the company has in the world.

Initial ground-breaking work has already begun on the local data centres. Senior AWS officials expect the new region in Western Canada to launch in late 2023 or early 2024.

“It’s a big infrastructure deployment in support of our customer base out here in the West,” Eric Gales, country manager for AWS Canada, said in an interview.

“We have broken ground on this launch. So it’s not something in the future. It has started now.”

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The Seattle-based company said the hub, with separate locations for each data centre, will allow customers to access a variety of cloud-computing products in Canada. This also means companies with data residency requirements can store such information within the country.

Since 2016, AWS has operated a central Canadian region in Montreal.

Monday’s announcement will see a new region created in Western Canada, based in Calgary, where it already has major energy industry customers, such as TC Energy and Keyera, along with locally-based tech firms Neo Financial, Benevity and children’s streaming service Kidoodle.TV.

“These regions need to be connected to infrastructure that service the customers out here in the western provinces,” Gales added.

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“This location was one that really satisfied all the requirements we had, so that’s why we chose to put it here in Calgary.”

Alberta Jobs and Economy Minister Doug Schweitzer called it a transformative investment, coming as start-up technology companies and larger “anchor” firms are expanding or moving into the region.

Premier Jason Kenney said the announcement should send a signal to Albertans that jobs are available in the expanding industry.

“This is the largest tech investment in Alberta history,” Kenney told reporters on Monday.

“For anybody who thought that all of the great news in the Alberta tech and innovation sector was just a temporary flash in the pan, this says no — that this is for real.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during the announcement at the Telus Convention Centre on Monday.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during the announcement at the Telus Convention Centre on Monday. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

Amazon, which has almost 40,000 employees in the country, also released a new economic impact study Monday on its AWS investments in Canada.

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The report indicates the company expects to invest an estimated $21 billion in its two Canadian infrastructure regions by 2037, which will support more than 5,000 new jobs.

“We estimate the GDP of Canada will increase by $4.9 billion by 2037 because of the Calgary Region alone,” states the study, noting the investment will support 871 local jobs annually by 2037, as well as positions outside the area.

Local officials welcomed Monday’s news, which comes after a series of decisions by larger multinational tech firms to expand in Alberta.

“Everyone knows Amazon and what they bring with them,” said Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Deborah Yedlin.

“We are getting the critical mass we need to be noticed by other companies that are playing on the world stage and see the value of coming to Calgary.”

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For Calgary, it’s another step in the sector’s evolution, with local companies such as Benevity, Parvus Therapeutics, Solium Capital (now Shareworks by Morgan Stanley) and RS Energy Group attaining the rare “unicorn” status with $1-billion valuations.

It’s not only home-grown firms gaining ground.

In June, Bangalore-based Mphasis unveiled plans to establish a Canadian headquarters in Calgary, creating up to 1,000 new jobs, while IT giant Infosys said in March it will bring 500 jobs to the city within three years as the company expands in Canada.

“It really is just a coming of age that is happening in Calgary today versus where we were just a year ago,” said James Lochrie, managing partner and co-founder of Thin Air Labs, which invests in start-up firms.

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“We should continue to see this accelerate.”

By Calgary landing hundreds of new jobs with AWS, along with up to $4.3 billion in expected capital and operating investment in the region by 2037, it marks another major shift for the sector.

Amazon’s cloud computing unit recorded net sales of US$16 billion during the third quarter and posted operating income of US$4.9 billion.

Calgary Economic Development has pursued Amazon in the past, making an unsuccessful pitch in 2017 to become the second corporate headquarters for the tech giant. In October 2017, Amazon unveiled plans to set up a distribution centre outside city limits in Rocky View County.

Amazon, which is the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the world, has also made major investments in Alberta this year, agreeing to buy electricity from an 80-megawatt solar project in Newell County.

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In June, the tech giant announced its second Alberta renewable project, a massive 375 MW solar farm in Vulcan.

While the recent announcements are adding to the local tech sector’s momentum, it has triggered concerns about the city’s ability to provide enough skilled workers, such as data scientists and software developers, to meet the needs of both local and international firms.

“Talent is just such a big issue,” said Bronte Valk of the Council of Canadian Innovators.

“When you have…foreign multinationals come in, they only exacerbate labour market issues.”

However, larger companies are also bringing their own training initiatives into Alberta.

Gales noted AWS will introduce a training component and it is collaborating with Mount Royal University. A Calgary training program, expected to begin in 2022, will help prepare displaced energy workers for entry-level cloud positions.

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Both the province and city have also been investing heavily in recent years to ramp up digital training efforts, such as the creation of the SAIT School for Advanced Digital Technology.

Jim Gibson, the school’s dean and a veteran of Calgary’s technology community, said local training initiatives are creating more skilled workers, although it will be a “fine balance” to have the talent pipeline meet demand.

“We have to work really closely with the bigger firms, which we are, but also with the start-ups,” Gibson said.

“We don’t have a lot of chances for making mistakes here on the talent side, so we have to be very much connected with each other.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

cvarcoe@postmedia.com

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SEC probing Tesla after whistleblower alleges company hid solar panel fire risk – CBC.ca

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The U.S. securities regulator has opened an investigation into Tesla Inc. over a whistleblower complaint that the company failed to properly notify its shareholders and the public of fire risks associated with solar panel system defects over several years, according to a letter from the agency.

The probe raises regulatory pressure on the world’s most valuable automaker, which already faces a federal safety probe into accidents involving its driver assistant systems. Concerns about fires from Tesla solar systems have been published previously, but this is the first report of investigation by the securities regulator.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosed the Tesla probe in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Steven Henkes, a former Tesla field quality manager, who filed a whistleblower complaint on the solar systems in 2019 and asked the agency for information about the report.

“We have confirmed with Division of Enforcement staff that the investigation from which you seek records is still active and ongoing,” the SEC said in a Sept. 24 response to Henkes, declining his request to provide its records. The SEC official said the letter should not be taken as an indication by the agency that violations of law had occurred.

Reuters was able to confirm the response.

Safety violations

Henkes, a former Toyota Motor quality division manager, was fired from Tesla in August 2020, and he sued Tesla, claiming the dismissal was in retaliation for raising safety concerns. Tesla did not respond to Reuters’ emailed questions, while the SEC declined to comment.

In the SEC complaint, Henkes said Tesla and SolarCity, which it acquired in 2016, did not disclose its “liability and exposure to property damage, risk of injury of users, fire etc to shareholders” prior and after the acquisition.

Tesla also failed to notify its customers that defective electrical connectors could lead to fires, according to the complaint.

Tesla told consumers that it needed to conduct maintenance on the solar panel system to avoid a failure that could shut down the system. It did not warn of fire risks, offer temporary shutdown to mitigate risk, or report the problems to regulators, Henkes said.

The whistleblower alleges that more than 60,000 residential customers were sold solar panels that were defective and dangerous. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

More than 60,000 residential customers in the U.S. and 500 government and commercial accounts were affected by the issue, according to his lawsuit filed in November last year against Tesla Energy over wrongful termination.

It is not clear how many of those remain after Tesla’s remediation program.

Safety calls ignored, whistleblower alleges

Henkes, a longtime quality manager at Toyota’s North American quality division, moved to SolarCity as a quality engineer in 2016, months before Tesla acquired SolarCity. After the acquisition, his duties changed and he became aware of the widespread problem, he told Reuters.

Henkes, in the SEC complaint, said he told Tesla management that Tesla needs to shut down the fire-prone solar systems, report to safety regulators and notify consumers. When his calls were ignored, he proceeded to file complaints with regulators.

“The top lawyer cautioned any communication of this issue to the public as a detriment to the Tesla reputation. For me this is criminal,” he said in the SEC complaint.

Litigation and concerns over faulty connectors and Tesla solar system issues stretch back several years. Walmart in a 2019 lawsuit against Tesla said the latter’s roof solar system led to seven store fires. Tesla denied the allegations and the two settled.

Business Insider reported Tesla’s program to replace defective solar panel parts in 2019.

Several residential customers or their insurers have sued Tesla and parts supplier Amphenol over fires related to their solar systems, according to documents provided by legal transparency group PlainSite.

Henkes also filed a complaint with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which CNBC reported this year was investigating the case. CPSC and Amphenol didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir to be manufactured in Canada – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Merck Canada announced on Monday that it is partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific to manufacture the investigational COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir at a facility in Whitby, Ont., for distribution to global markets.

The Canadian location will produce doses of molnupiravir, developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for distribution in Canada, the U.K., the European Union, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, pending approvals in those respective regions. The drug is awaiting approval by Health Canada.

The facility was chosen because of its capacity, capability, and the speed with which it is able to produce the drug, Merck Canada’s new president Marwan Akar said during a press conference.

Thermo Fisher’s existing Whitby manufacturing site is one of three locations in the world that will produce molnupiravir.

“We are marking a very key milestone, and rebuilding Canada’s biomanufacturing capability,” Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne said during the news conference.

“We’ll be producing COVID medications for Canadians and indeed for the world…so to me this is a very big step in how we intend to reveal our biomanufacturing sector in Canada.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Canada came under criticism for its inability to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines domestically, leaving Ottawa reliant on U.S. and European manufacturers to produce and provide doses.

Minister Champagne said the latest announcement is part of the government’s efforts to ensure Canada is better prepared and that “we redesign the supply chain so whatever may come next, we would be ready.”

The new manufacturing deal will also help Ontario’s economic recovery with a $19 million capital investment supporting more than 50 high-paying jobs in the region, according to Victor Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

Last week, the federal government signed a deal with Merck to purchase 500,000 molnupiravir pills, with an option for another half million, pending approval. Request for approval of the drug was submitted in August.

Antiviral drug treatments are considered another tool in the fight against COVID-19, experts say, after personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccines.

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Oil rises after Saudi price hike signals confidence in demand – BNN

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Oil rose after Saudi Arabia boosted the prices of its crude, signaling confidence in the demand outlook despite the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Futures in New York advanced 2.4 per cent to trade near US$68 a barrel. The kingdom increased its oil prices for customers in Asia and the U.S. for January, just days after the OPEC+ alliance agreed to boost output for the same month. Prices for its high-sulfur barrels in Asia were the highest since at least 2000. 

Meanwhile, initial data on omicron from South Africa — the epicenter of the outbreak — doesn’t show a resulting surge of hospitalizations. Markets across the globe have been roiled since the variant emerged in recent weeks, prompting concerns about a potential hit to the economic rebound. 

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The U.S. said over the weekend that chances of Iran rejoining the nuclear deal may be slipping away. The briefing was one of the most pessimistic American assessments of the negotiations yet, dampening any expectations of a quick return of Iranian oil to the market.   

While oil dropped for a sixth consecutive week of declines — the longest stretch since 2018 — it has begun to recover from the stark drop at the beginning of last week, when omicron led to renewed restrictions on travel. OPEC+ decided to keep adding extra barrels to the market in January, essentially putting a floor under prices by giving itself the option to change the plan at short notice.

Oil is seeing “a continuation of last week’s recovery” and “a bit of extra spice by Saudi OSPs,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodities strategy at Saxo Bank.

Prices

  • West Texas Intermediate for January delivery gained 2.9 per cent to US$68.15 a barrel by 9:09 a.m. in New York.
  • Brent for February settlement rose 2.8 per cent to US$71.80 a barrel.

Saudi Aramco raised its key Arab Light grade for customers in Asia by 60 cents from December to US$3.30 a barrel above a benchmark, according to a statement from the state producer. That followed comments last week from Aramco Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser that he was “very optimistic” about demand and that the market had overreacted to omicron.

White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Sunday that there doesn’t look to be a great degree of severity to the new strain, while cautioning it’s too early to be certain. Omicron has so far spread to at least 17 U.S. states.

Other oil-market news:

  • ConocoPhillips raised its capital budget for 2022 just months after a pair of major acquisitions that made it the second-biggest oil driller in the Permian Basin.
  • Iran said world powers can’t expect it to stop expanding its nuclear work until they reach an agreement with Tehran on how U.S. sanctions will be lifted from the Islamic Republic’s economy, according to a statement by the country’s foreign ministry.
  • President Joe Biden said U.S. drivers are beginning to see lower prices at gasoline pumps, but that China has not yet participated in a global release of oil reserves.

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