January 25, 2021

Investing in industrial innovation—the key to post-pandemic recovery

The year 2020 brought its share of challenges, including a health crisis unlike any Canada has experienced in the past century. With a vaccination program underway and the economic upswing on the horizon, the government must roll out effective strategies to accelerate the recovery, revitalize the economy, and create wealth. A resourceful and resilient industrial sector will be pivotal for this mission's success. Now more than ever, we must kick industrial innovation into high gear.

by Alain Chandonnet, Ph.D., President and CEO of INO
open letter published in the Ottawa Hill Times on January 25, 2021

Throughout our history, Canadian ingenuity has sparked a great deal of innovation, meaning original solutions that benefit users and are adopted on a grand scale, which have appealed to the collective imagination, catapulted companies into overseas markets, and radically changed people's daily lives.

However, Canada has steadily abandoned its once enviable position as a global innovation leader. Its ranking on the Bloomberg Innovation Index has fallen to 22nd place, just behind Slovenia. While Canada scores well in obtaining patents, it generates little manufacturing value-added. In short, local knowledge no longer translates into tangible innovations and value for businesses. Meanwhile, countries such as South Korea, Germany, and Sweden have stepped up their development of fully industrialized, reliable, and economically viable products that have emerged from applied and basic research. What these countries have in common—which, in no small part, factors into their success—is their enthusiastic support for industrial research centres (aka Research and Technology Organizations - RTOs), whose mission is to accelerate the industrialization of knowledge. In these countries, both large businesses and SMEs profit from funding that catalyzes R&D tailored to their need for immediate innovation that will generate rapid spinoffs and enhance their competitiveness in global markets.

When industrial and manufacturing innovation investment flows, the economy grows. What’s more, a healthy manufacturing sector ensures the delivery of supplies to critical industries, shrinks the trade deficit, and creates high-quality jobs.

Benefits derived from industrial research centres

Governments and businesses need partners adept at utilizing scientific and technological advancements to benefit the economy in the most cost-effective ways possible. Academic knowledge, concepts, and patents must, posthaste, translate into industrial solutions that generate value. This is precisely where INO and other Canadian RTOs play a pivotal role in the innovation chain. When the government partners with RTOs it gains access to innovation experts who can generate direct, rapid, and significant benefits for Canada’s entrepreneurs and workers. Investing in a network of centres that specialize in industrial innovation and bridge the gap between academia and industry constitutes a strategic decision to revitalize the economy.

Economic impact studies reveal that INO alone has generated new activities among our companies that have boosted the country’s GDP by $500 million a year. This works out to a greater than 20 to 1 return on the government’s investment! And INO is only one of a number of Canadian RTOs that, if organized, coordinated, and financially supported in a more sustainable way via dedicated programs conducive to their growth, would help our country fully capitalize on its immense intellectual and creative resources.

Working together to accelerate the recovery and energize the economy

Together, let’s transform our Canadian know-how into innovative, beneficial solutions that markets can adopt, and that help companies realize their full potential—which, in turn, will generate greater economic and societal value. By fostering a robust network of industrial research centers, we can bring vital R&D tools to companies seeking more efficient ways to innovate. Together, let's support our businesses and help them expand, boost their domestic manufacturing, excel in their markets, and export products around the globe. Together, let’s build a thriving economy for Canada’s future!