Academic tweed and denim mingled with military cadpat in late January at the opening of Thales Canada’s new offices in Kingston’s Innovation Park.

The move into Queen’s University’s high-tech incubator represents a major step in the development of the company’s presence in the city. The prime contractor for the Canadian Army’s Land Command Support System, Thales has had a footprint at nearby CFB Kingston since 2004, working closely with the Land Command and Staff College, the 1st Canadian Division Headquarters, and the Canadian Forces Join Signal Regiment among others. Liam Porter, manager of Thales’s Kingston office, says the company has grown from a single employee eight years ago to 22 today, including sub-contractors.

Anyone curious about the thinking behind Thales’s decision to boost its presence in Kingston, and at Innovation Park in particular, needed only to wander away for the speeches for a few minutes. Set up in a nearby room, surrounded by posters highlighting Thales’s command and control systems, they would have found a large tabletop computer screen, perhaps three feet by two, displaying a simulated battlefield. Accompanied by a knot of graduate students, the simulator’s developer, Professor Nick Graham from Queen’s School of Computing stood close by to answer questions.

Graham directs a lab at Queen’s University known as EQUIS (Engineering Interactive Systems at Queen’s University), and the tabletop system is his (and his lab’s) brainchild. Known as OrMiS, this touch-activated, command and control military simulation application was created to teach commanders how to manoeuvre military forces. The chance to work with EQUIS, and other researchers at Queen’s and RMC, many of whom have labs at Innovation Park, is what drew Thales. These schools’ high-tech graduates also represent a highly desirable pool of future employees.

For Innovation Park and Queen’s, snagging a top-level defence contractor such as Thales represents a major milestone in the growth of the park, which was founded nearly five years ago. Although a number of companies have been started and nurtured at Innovation Park, Thales’s arrival represents the first time a multi-national, high-tech player has chosen to locate there.