Of the 2,000 members in Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, only five per cent (101) are located east of Quebec. Jayson Myers, CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), and Springboard CEO Daryl Genge are determined to change that.
NGen is coordinating the national manufacturing booster initiative. But despite offering free memberships to organizations and individuals, and even though joining is as simple as completing an online application, Myers says they only have 48 members in Nova Scotia, 38 in New Brunswick and 10 in Prince Edward Island. Newfoundland and Labrador, with only five members, has the lowest representation among the Atlantic provinces.
NGen partnered with Halifax-based Springboard, an organization that supports the commercialization of post-secondary research, to boost its membership in eastern Canada.
“These are not regional superclusters. They are national superclusters.”
Daryl Genge, president and CEO, Springboard
Springboard’s Daryl Genge says the low numbers may be caused by a lack of awareness or even a misunderstanding about the nature of the supercluster program. “Though they may be housed in different parts of the country, these are not regional superclusters. They are national superclusters.” He also says manufacturing companies in Atlantic Canada tend to fly under the radar.
Flying under the radar isn’t just a regional problem.
According to Myers, there are only 250 manufacturing companies in Canada with more than 500 employees; in the United States, there are over 37,000. To put that in perspective: there is one large-scale manufacturing operation for every 150,400 Canadians. In the United States, that works out to one for every 8,864 Americans.
Quantity, however, doesn’t necessarily equal quality. Myers says Canadian manufacturers are smaller, nimbler — and a lot more profitable than their American counterparts.
Still, from 2000 to 2015, approximately 500,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared from the Canadian economy. It’s worth noting that those are typically well-paid jobs that haven’t been replaced.
“Look at how dependent we are on other countries like China and the United States for supplies. This shows why it’s so important to ramp up domestic manufacturing.”
Jayson Myers, CEO, NGen
If you want more proof that Canada needs to rebuild its manufacturing strength, Myers says you need look no further than the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment during the Covid pandemic. “Look at how dependent we are on other countries like China and the United States for supplies. This shows why it’s so important to ramp up domestic manufacturing.”
Ramping up does not mean recreating the past. The nature of manufacturing itself has changed. It’s no longer about getting a maximum amount of product out the door as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
Myers says Canada’s capacity to build a world-leading advanced manufacturing industry depends on the sector’s ability to adopt and manage advanced technologies like 3-D printing and nanotechnology. “It’s not just about developing technology,” he says. “It’s about developing collaborative partnerships to create solutions.”
Those partnerships are important: approximately 97 per cent of Canadian companies fall in the small to mid-size business category. More than 50 per cent are micro enterprises with fewer than five employees. These companies often lack the resources to invest in, or develop, advanced technologies.
Genge says that Springboard, with its network of 19 regional post-secondary institutions, is in a unique position to help make that happen. “We have the capability to marry research capacity with SMEs to demonstrate how innovative and productive we can be.”
How it works
The terms for Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster $200-million investment fund were approved last June. In the 11 months since, NGen has approved 15 advanced manufacturing projects valued at $85 million and 10 Covid-specific projects valued at $32 million.
Canada Collaboration Day
NGen is hosting a free virtual event on April 28 to showcase 25 projects across the country.
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One of the companies approved for funding is Sona Nanotech. On March 31, 2020, the Halifax-based biotech firm was awarded $4.1 million to develop and commercialize its Covid-19 rapid-response antigen test.
Asked about the criteria used to approved project applications, Myers says they must have four characteristics. “They must be transformative, meaning they have to deliver world-leading capabilities in advanced manufacturing. They must be close to commercialization. They must be collaborative, showing that there are partners involved. And they must have national impact — not just an economic impact, but with important implications for all Canadians.”