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Slated to be Valcent's first 'VertiCrop' system in North America

Vancouver-based Valcent Products Inc. has signed a memorandum of understanding to install its first " VertiCrop" high-density vertical growing system in North America on the top level of a parkade in the city's downtown core.

The vertical farming system allows leafy green vegetables to be grown all year round in urban environments in much smaller spaces, using much smaller amounts of energy and water while generating higher yields.

According to the VertiCrop site, using the system requires just 8 per cent of normal water consumption used to irrigate crops, can work in any climate, can grow more than 50 varieties of leafy green vegetables, and offers yields about 20 times higher than normal production of field crops.

Valcent's vertical farming system was named in 2009 by Time magazine as one of the top 50 innovations of the year.

The system, as explained on the VertiCrop site, uses a suspended tray configuration on a moving conveyor system, providing expsoure to natural or artificial light with precisely measured nutrients. By growing vegetables in stacked rows, it uses far less space by growing upward rather than outward.

The memorandum of understanding between Valcent and PSWJ Holdings Ltd. and Easy Park, which manages and operates parkades and properties owned by the city of Vancouver, proposes that North America's first VertiCrop unit will be installed on the roof level of an EasyPark parking lot in downtown Vancouver. The release notes that Vancouver has set the goal of being the world's greenest city by 2020.

Three quarters say it's getting harder to find good employees

Almost three-quarters -- 74 per cent -- of small businesses believe it is getting harder to find good employees, and 64 per cent believe the demands of today's job applicants exceed their qualifications, according to the latest quarterly American Express Small Business Monitor.

That's going to be a growing concern. With baby boomers set to retire in big numbers, nearly half -- 46 per cent -- expect a shortage of qualified job applicants in the coming years and 39 per cent believe it will be difficult to replace retiring employees.

As well, 32 per cent are concerned about the effect it will have on their operations, and 23 per cent expect to replace a "significant" proportion of their employees over that time, according to the survey of 520 Canadian small businesses.

Yet 69 per cent haven't put any plans in place to deal with it.

Still, 69 per cent are confident in their ability to attract and retain good employees, though one in 10 report never finding the right person, and 28 per cent say they had a job open for up to three months before finding the right person to fill it.

What draws employees? Flexible hours and higher pay topped the list, with an equal 72 per cent citing those incentives.

Other top draws were having a dynamic business culture, for 62 per centl offering stock options, for 61 per cent; and better health benefits, for 54 per cent.

Nearly half -- 49 per cent -- of respondentts also felt their business's financial position is improving. That was a two-point increase over the last quarter, and a 22-per-cent increase from 2010, according to a release about the study.

And still, 83 per cent of small business owners feel the rewards of running their own business outweigh the risks.

Inaugural free shipping day hits Canada today

More than 140 online merchants are offering free delivery to Canadians who buy from them today, as a "free shipping day" campaign that a Canadian first brought to the Americans comes to Canada, too.

In the inaugural campaign in Canada, these merchants are offering to waive charges, with delivery by Christmas eve, to those who buy from them.

The campaign was the brainchild of Regina native Luke Knowles. He launched the concept in the United States about four years ago. Down south, 1,876 merchants have signed on so far, and the number is expected to pass 2,000, for the free delivery date that is scheduled for this Friday in the United States, according to the Free Shipping Day site.

This year, he has also launched a separate site for the first time for Canadians. Canada's day falls earlier because delivery may take longer.

For more detailed reports, have a look at this story and this one.

Pundits and prognosticators

It's that time of year: the predictions for the year ahead are coming out. The Daily Dose blog on has "sifted through stacks of forecaster pronouncements to find the best bets." Here are 10 of the predictions for small business that stood out.


Forecast dinner upcoming

Young Canadias in Finance will be holding its annual "forecast dinner" featuring keynote speakers including Doug Porter, managing director and deputy chief economist for BMO Capital Markets, and Eric Bushnell, senior vice-president and portfolio management and chief investment officer for CI Institutional Asset Management, and Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist for CIBC World Markets, on March 29 in Ottawa. Be one of the first 50 to register before Dec. 31 to receive a 10 per cent discount. For more information, click here.


Small businesses scaling back holiday celebrations

For many small and medium-sized businesses, this time of year is synonymous with holiday parties. Though most are still celebrating with staff, many are cutting back but trying to inventively adapt their party plans in response to economic uncertainty and an increasingly diverse work force.


Vertical gardens make for a breath of fresh air

Repurposed space tech could be coming soon to a wall near you, we wrote in a November piece about a breakthrough innovation to create a living wall.

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