German tech company chooses Saanich for expansion to tap into B.C. shipbuilding opportunities

A German company specializing in high-tech marine systems has established a Canadian subsidiary with a Saanich office to win public and private-sector contracts as this country embarks on billions of dollars of spending to renew its combat and non-combat fleets.

Victoria’s Rick Gerbrecht is president and chief executive officer of newly incorporated Atlas Elektronik Canada Ltd. Right now, he’s Atlas’s only staffer at the Vancouver Island Technology Park on Markham Street but that is changing.

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He’s hiring four staff immediately. Two will work here and two will be in Ottawa.

The pace of expansion will be governed by the amount of work Atlas lines up in Canada. The company is looking specifically at opportunities at shipyards in North Vancouver, where federal non-combat vessels will be built by Seaspan Marine Corp., and in Halifax, where Irving Shipbuilding will construct combat ships.

Canada’s national shipbuilding procurement strategy has a $35-million budget and another $5 billion announced in this year’s federal budget is expected to be largely devoted to non-combat vessels.

All this opportunity was the driver for Atlas to set up a Canadian presence. The timing is right for Atlas to establish itself here, Gerbrecht said.

 Ship construction has not yet begun. “We are now waiting for announcements to be made,” Gerbrecht said.

When Seaspan builds the ships, the construction will start in Vancouver and finishing work and trials will take place at Victoria Shipyards.

Regional benefits are part of the requirements of the NSPS. Gerbrecht has been lining up suppliers for potential work.

Contract values “could be as high as $30-$40 million,” he said. In that case, manufacturing facilities would be established with a trained workforce. It’s too soon to say where they would be located and how many workers would be hired.

Atlas Elektronik Group is headquartered in Bremen, Germany, and is a joint subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp and EADS.

The company operates internationally and is already working on federal projects in Canada, including providing specific products for the Victoria Class submarines. Atlas Elektronik Group managing directors Dieter Rottsieper and Volker Paltzo said in a release, “We look forward to creating new partnerships with the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian authorities and companies.”

Gerbrecht, who has spent two years on business development in Canada for the company, said Atlas can supply mine detection and disposal and sonar systems, as well as vessel traffic management security systems, a family of autonomous underwater vehicles, underwater security systems, Arctic surveillance systems, and command and control systems.

Atlas is ready to work the with private sector and is aiming to carry out research and development in this country, he said.

Dale Gann, tech park president, said the arrival of Atlas provides an opportunity to strengthen the local ocean technology sector.

cwilson@timescolonist.com

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