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This article was published 21/2/2018 (905 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The National Research Council’s (NRC) so-called Factory of the Future facility in Winnipeg was initially announced in 2015.
Two years later, a site for the $60-million project was officially selected off Brookside Boulevard near the Centreport Canada Way.
According to François Cordeau, the NRC vice-president in charge of the project, the final purchase of the site is expected to close by this August and the building will not be substantially completed before the spring of 2021.
But even more than the frustration over the slow pace of development, leaders of the manufacturing industry in Manitoba are concerned the NRC is going to be engaged in something that the community might not even want.
To that end, it has launched a proactive initiative to make sure that does not happen.
The Manitoba division of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), along with Economic Development Winnipeg, have put together an advanced manufacturing coalition made up of a broad cross-section of players in the industry as well as universities and other public sector institutions to make sure that local industry’s needs are clearly articulated and properly communicated to the NRC.
Greg Dandewich, the senior vice-president of Economic Development Winnipeg, said it was done to make sure both the local community and the NRC are on the same page.
"We want to be sure we know what is happening in our marketplace around advanced manufacturing because it is such an important driver in our economy and to make sure we could identify where we should continue to put our efforts to grow our competitiveness... and also to identify where the gaps exist," said Dandewich, who is co-chairing the coalition along with Ron Koslowsky of the CME.
According Cordeau, the message has been properly received.
"I have to say, there has been excellent collaboration," Cordeau said.
"Everyone is very keen to see NRC play an active role and we are very happy to see that. Our goal with that facility is to have it as a collaborative platform — to have the regional players all present at the facility, collaborating with each other in creating solutions for industry."
Among other things, some of the coalition have expressed the sentiment that providing programming or resources might have a greater impact for the local players than spending $60 million on a building that is now being referred to as the Advanced Manufacturing program and is no longer called the Factory of the Future.
Dandewich said, "We don’t have to wait for the box. We can engage and identify programs and do it constructively with the partners at NRC."
Koslowsky believes the way to get traction in the community is by reaching out and working with industry players on projects that can be done virtually rather than in a building that’s going to be located off the beaten track.
"My view — and it’s shared by others... is that we don’t really need a $60-million building. It’s resources, personnel, program supports... things that will fund real activity as opposed to a building," he said. "What we need is funding that would spur applied research... demonstrations, resources, key people that could help market, sell and engage manufacturers and service providers."
It is hard for some to hide their skepticism about this project after the NRC’s last construction job in Winnipeg. The building at 435 Ellice Avenue, which the NRC built in 1985 and announced the closure of in 2012, was long considered underutilized. (That building is currently on the market to be sold.)
"It (the NRC’s Advanced Manufacturing program) reminds me of a building on Ellice where nothing really happened," Koslowsky said.
Bob Hastings, a former NRC official who now runs West Canitest R&D Inc. (WestCaRD), a research organization associated with GE’s Testing, Research and Development Centre that does cold-weather testing in GE aviation engines, is also part of the Manitoba industry coalition.
He said that despite the fact both the Liberal government in Ottawa and the Tory government on Broadway have made it known they are committed to the project, he is not convinced that the building is a done deal.
"It’s far from a sure thing," Hastings said.
Regardless of the skepticism, the project is still being seen as another important economic development asset to add to the province’s arsenal.
Blaine Pedersen, Manitoba’s minister of Growth, Enterprise and Trade, said, "We appreciate the clear federal funding commitment that is now in place. The advanced manufacturing initiative is a real opportunity to build on the expertise and capacity that exists in Manitoba, including the synergies with our aerospace sector.
"In a time of rapidly evolving technology, integrated strategies with industry and post-secondary education are a key element in developing the highly skilled workforce needed to compete globally," Pedersen added.
Dandewich said that, as an advanced manufacturing centre, there is a responsibility to make sure the community is clear in how it is preparing for this centre.
"It is a discriminator for us, not too dissimilar to the way we talk about the Composites Innovation Centre, which is advanced manufacturing around materials," Dandewich said. "So now we are starting to build this interesting ecosystem of players."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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