A little over a year ago, a staircase led to the rooftop from the second floor of Garmin Canada's headquarters and offered a bird's eye view of downtown Cochrane. Along the rooftop were footings for a future floor.

Sooner than anticipated, it's now seamlessly been transformed into a three-storey building to accommodate the growing needs of the company. For Cochrane and the surrounding area, it means more highly skilled STEM employment opportunities.

This morning, an official ribbon cutting was held. Tomorrow, Thursday, Apr. 18, an open house will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. to give Cochrane and area residents a firsthand look at what the company does. 

With this addition, the headquarters can accommodate upwards of 400 associates and currently has about 220. There are also additional labs and space to test Garmin's successful and growing line of fitness products.

"We got it all done in about a year, which is what we planned," says Jim Rooney, managing director of Garmin Canada. "That was our target to open up in April before the big influx of students in May. We made that happen, so it's pretty exciting."

Jim Rooney 2Jim Rooney looks above to the crowd of employees gathered in the windowed mezzanine above for the ribbon cutting.

The headquarters needed the space so it could accommodate more employees to continue with its cutting-edge innovations.

"Without having increased capacity, we run out of people to take a look at new ideas because a lot of stuff we're working on right now are so successful that we keep having to make new versions of them, and we're selling more and so that takes more people to continue to make the products people know, let alone explore new ones," he says.

"We have all the portfolio products that we work on and every year, 18 months, we're bringing out the new versions of those and we're working on products we can't talk about, but they'll add some new categories in the long term."

READ: Garmin third floor starts in March, workforce to increase to almost 400

Latha NachiyamaiLatha Nachiyamai beside a display of the with a display sensor generations.

Program manager Latha Nachiyamai is based out of the new lab on the third floor. She provided an overview of Garmin's sensory technology.

"We started researching this technology in 2014 and you can see the various generations and evolution that the sensor has gone through," explains the program manager. "Now in our fifth generation of sensor which we just released last year, it has optical heart rate pulse, ox, ECG, and skin temp. We develop all of that core technology here in this office."

Making these advancements possible is a multidisciplinary team of electrical engineers, software engineers, and mechanical engineers.

"We're heavily involved in how these metrics are used for features as well, so when you're able to put this sensor on a watch and wear a watch 24/7, there are so many insights that you can get about your health and wellness and your fitness."

Harrison ChinHarrison Chin is a senior software engineer and has been with Garmin since 2013.

Harrison Chin, senior software engineer, began when Garmin was located on Grande Blvd. in 2013. Even after a decade with the company, he's passionate about his work and excited to show off a technology that's ideal for anglers from the company's marine division.

It allows for the wireless operation of a trolling motor that you can control from a Garmin Quatix 7 watch. You can control speed, and direction, and there's an anchor mode. If you fall overboard, no worries, it will guide you back to your craft.

Josh JensenIT manager Josh Jenson explains how the rooftop solar panels offset overall energy consumption. 

IT manager Josh Jenson took pride in explaining how 360 rooftop solar panels offset Garmin's energy consumption. The 120-kW system has generated 20.2 megawatt hours and is expected to supply almost a third of Garmin's current energy needs.

"Our maximum month that we have from historical usage was just under 70 megawatts, and so, since Jan. 26, our system has produced 26 megawatts in the worst months of the year for generating power."

He says the use of solar power connects with their employees, product users, and company vision. It's not a bad message to send to prospective employees, either. 

"We're always building cool new things. Solar panels are kind of cool and electric cars are cool. And so, these are the kind of things we're always thinking about, and it helps us attract the people that we need to do the work that we have to do."

Mayor Jeff GenungCochrane Mayor Jeff Genung led the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Mayor Jeff Genung is impressed with how the new floor has smoothly integrated into the existing structure.

"You've added here a third floor, and it doesn't appear from the outside to have been a significant change. And many, I think, in the community probably don't even realize a third floor added, unless you've seen the construction. Once you get inside, it's amazing to see how much progress they've made in a year."

He echoed Rooney's comments about the synergy between Cochrane and Garmin that was key to Garmin deciding to not only keep their Canadian headquarters here but expand upon them.

"We embrace them, we recognize them and as Jim (Rooney) said in his speech, a lot of the principles and values that Garmin has as an organization, we too have as a community. Outdoor space, the trail systems, the amenities that we have naturally, it kind of hand-in-hand goes with Garmin. It's kind of a synergy that exists." 

How Garmin became a magnet for STEM professionals dates back over 25 years ago. 

 In 1998, four engineers put their minds together to revolutionize the sport and fitness industry from a Cochrane garage. They formed Dynastream Innovations and created a small accelerometer-based, shoe-mounted sensor that accurately measured speed and distance.

So this information could be viewed in real-time, they next invented an ultra-low power wireless protocol that became known as ANT+, a standard of interoperability still embraced by the sport and fitness industry today.

In 2006, Dynastream Innovations was acquired by Garmin, expanding the team’s research and development activities on fitness, outdoor and wireless products. After nearly 12 years of operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of Garmin, Dynastream Innovations became Garmin Canada in July 2018 and the Cochrane location became the official Canadian Headquarters for Garmin.

Multiple moves to larger locations lead to the construction of their current headquarters. After just six years, a third floor was required, well ahead of projected timelines.

JoshIT manager Josh Jensen on the rooftop of Garmin before the third floor was added. It's now covered with 360 solar panels. (file photo)