Statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Canada lags behind other G8 countries in productivity growth. In Timmins, a new centre of excellence is being established to combat those figures by putting Northern Ontario businesses ahead of the trend.
Now established at Northern College, the Centre of Excellence for Productivity and Innovation will help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in northeastern Ontario build productivity and innovation capacity.
The centre will be run by NEOnet. Though the idea has been germinating since 2010, Northern College president Fred Gibbons said it solidified after the city formulated its Timmins 2020 strategic plan.
The plan asked whether a centre of excellence could be created in Timmins that was unique from other centres in the North.
The wo rk i n g group—which comprised representatives of the Timmins Economic Development Corp., the Chamber of Commerce, the Venture Centre, the Far Northeast Training Board, the college, NEOnet, and MaJIC—settled on idea of proving productivity and helping companies to innovate.
“A lot of the small and medium enterprises don’t employ a lot of people, so consequently they don’t have internal research and development capacity of their own in the vast majority of instances,” Gibbons said. “So what this project does is give them access to that to solve some of these perplexing problems that they have.”
NEOnet was chosen to run the centre because of its track record in developing information and communications technology in Northern Ontario. Its mandate has been to build broadband and cellular infrastructure so that residents of small communities could benefit from education and health care provided over the web so they don’t have to leave their homes to get access to that information.
Chris McLaughlin, director of operations for NEOnet, said the focus of the productivity and innovation centre will be twofold: it will raise awareness about productivity, as well as apply new technologies so businesses can become more productive in their workplaces.
The focus will be on non-retail enterprises such as manufacturing.
Ultimately, the goal is to generate more revenue or more profits for Northern Ontario businesses so they can be stronger, McLaughlin said.
“The program will be a two-tiered system where SMEs can apply to have their business assessed with respect to productivity, and they will be provided with a report on their productivity level as well as some indication as to what they can do to improve,” McLaughlin said.
“The second phase is that they can take that report and apply to a program to receive some funds to assist them in the implementation of the strategies.”
Reporting is built into the program so that the centre can follow up on participating businesses’ success after they graduate from the program.
For example, businesses could be asked to fill out a survey six months after graduating and again one year after completion.
That way, “we’re not just giving them something and walking away,” McLaughlin said. “There’s an investment made by the centre in the success of that business.”
Gibbons noted that the centre may present research opportunities for students, all in keeping with the college’s goal to provide them with experiential learning to make them more marketable upon graduation.
It’s also in keeping with Northern’s move in the last few years to foster more applied research projects. “Productivity and innovation means helping companies to investigate opportunities to solve some problems and some of that often draws in research opportunities,” Gibbons said.
The organization is in the process of hiring a coordinator for the centre and McLaughlin expects to have someone in place by February. The project will roll out in early March.