Ontario’s thriving aerospace industry seeks collaboration, innovation
By Alison Dunn
The aerospace manufacturing sector in Ontario is strong, but to continue growing and thriving, it needs to collaborate more with government, education and research and innovation.
That’s the main message coming out of the Ontario Aerospace Council’s annual general meeting on Thursday, where more than 170 people gathered at the Toronto Congress Centre to discuss the issues facing the industry.
“It’s a very collegial kind of business,” said Rod Jones, executive director of the OAC. “We just need to work together much more effectively on an ongoing basis.”
The sector – one of the strongest manufacturing sectors in Ontario – currently generates $6.5 billion annually and employers more than 22,000 people, according to Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Innovation.
“Frankly, our aerospace sector is very much leading in many ways,” he told the assembled crowd. “This sector has grown. We now have 350 companies, including 13 of the top 25 global aerospace companies in the world operating here in Ontario.
“Our aerospace sector represents, in my view, the kind of advanced manufacturing that Ontario needs to succeed in the new global economy. In many ways, this industry really does set the bar for where sectors and industries need to go in this province.”
Duguid, however, reminded attendees that all industries in Ontario must continually innovate to continue the economy’s growth.
“We need to put innovation at the center of everything we do. Innovation is not unique to one sector of our economy,” he said.
“By focusing on innovation, our companies and our economy can always be on the cutting-edge of competitiveness. That’s where we need to be. That’s where our entire economy has to strive toward.”
The Ontario government also needs to play a part in that growth, Jones said. “That’s where the government can help us: to provide some of the resources that we need to be able to bring together all of those players, grow the employment, move our companies – the small companies in particular – up the value chain,” he said.
“One of the important things that we need to do is work on the research and technology development so that we’re developing the products and capabilities for the next generation of aircraft,” Jones added. “Here’s the trick in aerospace. That work will get done by the large, multi-nationals [in the places where] the local government is a partner. Our government needs to step up and be a partner with these large companies.
“Do they have to provide half the funding? No. But they have to provide a little bit of it to actually… attract those companies to do R&D here rather than doing it in California, in Australia, in France or Germany.”
The aerospace industry will continue to grow, Jones added, and it is expected that in the next 20 years, the global aerospace industry will build 30,000 new airplanes, translating to $4 trillion of activity. If the industry can collaborate with each other, governments, education and R&D, Ontario stands a much better shot of taking its fair share of that economic activity, Jones said.