A more competitive manufacturing sector: our businesses have what it takes

Letter signed by Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal; Serge Bouchard, General Manager, Regroupement des équipementiers en automatisation industrielle (RÉAI); Jacqueline Dubé, President and General Manager, Centre Facilitating Research and Innovation in Organizations (CEFRIO), and published in Le Devoir, Le Journal de Montréal et Le Journal de Québec.  

February 21, 2014

A more competitive manufacturing sector:
our businesses have what it takes

There has been a great deal of discussion for some time now about the decline of our manufacturing sector and our weak productivity. The 2013 Overview of Productivity and Prosperity in Quebec is unequivocal: a major change in direction is required, and soon. The stakes of this change are even higher given that the manufacturing sector is critical to the economic development of Greater Montréal, where it represents 12% of GDP and 220,000 jobs, in addition to accounting for a substantial portion of our exports.

Why are manufacturers lagging? Headwinds from a number of directions over the past decade – including the rise of the Canadian dollar and increased competition from emerging countries – have made businesses vulnerable and led to a decline in employment.

It’s time to reverse the trend. Failing to act now will have serious consequences for our prosperity and standard of living.

So how do we go about this? The experts agree: SMEs need to use digital solutions and automation more. By adopting leading-edge technologies, manufacturers can be more productive and competitive, fostering wealth creation, developing quality jobs and attracting younger workers.

The time is ripe for this shift. The American economy is gathering steam, our economy is increasingly open to European markets, our dollar has depreciated slightly and the price of raw materials has dropped. Companies need to seize this opportunity to rethink their business model and adopt new manufacturing processes.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel: we have the expertise in digital technology and automation. The governments of Canada and Quebec, the CEFRIO and the RÉAI are some of the main players that support manufacturers in their acquisition of these technologies.

For example, the Government of Quebec’s SME 2.0 initiative headed up by the CEFRIO supports manufacturers in the fashion and aerospace industries as they move to digital technology. The lessons learned from these pilot projects should be used to develop tools and approaches for SMEs in other sectors to improve their performance.

Likewise, the RÉAI is an umbrella group for companies that partner with small manufacturers that want to tackle automation projects and integrate best business practices. Solutions are designed locally and are within easier reach than generally believed.

But what is the missing piece of the puzzle to make this shift? Mobilization. This is why today the Board of Trade is holding a Strategic Forum with the CEFRIO and the RÉAI. We will present concrete case studies of businesses that have successfully changed their processes. These cases will convince businesses and stakeholders to mobilize and coordinate their efforts to increase their competitiveness and that of the entire industry.

By developing the digital capacity of businesses and encouraging the adoption of automation processes that allow them to innovate, we will bring about renewal in the manufacturing sector. We have the conditions for success. It’s time now to act.

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