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JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick

New Brunswick manufacturing: A change in culture required?

By Ed McGinley

In September 2019 I attended the JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick. The forum was an impressive gathering of manufacturers from around the province. The intent of the event was to create an environment where academia, government agencies, bureaucrats and manufacturers could better understand how the sector was doing - an exercise to benchmark where we sit on the global competitiveness index. The goal was also to agree on what we can do to make it better for our homegrown manufacturers which are recognized to be the best opportunities for growing the economy.

I wasn’t in the room long before I realized I wanted to be a part of this discovery mission. That is why I jumped at the chance to be involved in this project.

Over the next few weeks, I want to share with you what I learned from numerous manufacturing practitioners in our province through a series of interviews I’ve been conducting on behalf of the JDI Roundtable team. I am here to share, communicate and hopefully entertain you with what I have learned over the last 4 months. But more importantly, I hope this exercise prompts a much-needed discussion on our economy, our role in it as citizens, and the value of the manufacturer for our communities.

Through these interviews and other research activities, the JDI Roundtable team is trying to better understand the manufacturing sector in our NB economy. Understand their challenges, and their successes, what keeps them up at night, what makes them beam with pride. To get their informed opinion on what they are seeing here in NB and around the world and, in the end, to get their opinion on the state of manufacturing in NB.

Let’s be clear - I’m not getting this advice from an academic, a banker, a politician or the press. I was getting it straight from the practitioner. Straight from the men and women who have a real stake in the game.

What I uncovered from my conversations with these incredible business and community minded people is that there is something posing a threat in our province. That threat is our apparent lack of understanding on how difficult it is to be a manufacturer these days – or in other words, a lack of appreciation of what it takes for an exporter to be globally competitive producing in New Brunswick.

Or for that matter, how difficult it is to run any business – anywhere. It is difficult to find business, win business, keep the clients satisfied, maintain market share, keep costs down, keep employees on the payroll, find the right employee, invest in the employee….and get up and do it all again tomorrow. We need to appreciate that there are companies outside our borders that want to eat our manufacturers for lunch! Why is that a threat? Because if these employers are not successful – neither are we! If they aren’t successful, they aren’t employing NBers. The ripple effect is that these NBers aren’t making money that they can spend in their community.

Companies and countries are recognizing the value of “getting better” at manufacturing. They’re becoming more sophisticated in how they make their products and in how they export their products to the rest of the world There is a global term used to describe this phenomenon. We refer to it as Industry 4.0.

There are many definitions of Industry 4.0. If I were to distill the many definitions into a 15 second elevator pitch, I would describe industry 4.0 as any attempt at a system that uses advanced technologies to:

  • reinvent products and services;
  • accelerate operational efficiency; and
  • achieve cost savings and create growth.

Manufacturers and managers today are going through a global revolution. NB manufacturers are no exception. The companies I spoke with are fully embracing the industry 4.0 revolution. They have been aware of it for a while. They have strategies in place. They have made investments in machinery, processes and people. They recognize the need to create their own future. They are setting an example and not waiting to become irrelevant because they can’t compete on the global manufacturing stage.

In this upcoming blog series, I’ll look at themes from my discussions with NB manufacturers, including:

  1. The value of manufacturers in New Brunswick
  2. Moving from clipboard to automation – why scale and control of scale are important
  3. Why family ownership of business is important in New Brunswick


I have learned so much through my conversations with local manufacturing leaders. It is my intention over the next several weeks to share all that I have learned.

What I want to communicate and convince you of is the notion that it will take a village - an army of passionate, incredibly talented NBers - to drive the change we need to see manufacturing thrive in this province.

This is not just a “government thing”. Government can make the environment inviting for business. But citizens and the community need to push for it and support it. We need to do more for manufacturers if we are to see investment in new machinery and equipment, and buildings. This investment is a necessity if the businesses that employ our citizens are to remain here, remain competitive and keep paying wages and salaries that employ our neighbours, our families and keep our economy going.

Remember the phase “you don’t miss something until its gone”. That sentiment is so appropriate here - today. Not 10 years hence, not another election from now, not another fiscal quarter. It needs to happen - now!

It has been such a rewarding experience to meet these manufacturers and learn about their journey, the challenges, the successes, the failures…you know…. all those things that enquiring minds want to know.

The most rewarding thing “I” have come to learn from this engagement is very heartwarming: Without exception, these business owners love their province, their region, the people they work with and the impact they are making on their communities.

WOW – betcha didn’t think I was going to throw that at you so early in this series of blog posts. We need to lean in and support them!

Ed McGinley has worked in the Information Technology sector for 24 years. He gained experience in the building trades, modular home manufacturing before it was sexy. As a student he worked in mines, mills and nightclubs, studied economics and business at university and after all that, stumbled his way into the tech sector. He has seen provincial politics from the inside. He grew up in Bathurst and now makes Fredericton his home. He has been one lucky NBer – often in the right place at the right time! He would like to see more of our youth experience the same, but admits we have to remove “lucky” from the equation. As citizens, we need to be more calculated in how we make luck happen here.

July 14, 2020

The JDI Roundtable on Manufacturing Competitiveness in New Brunswick is an independent research program made possible through the generosity of J.D. Irving, Ltd. The funding supports arms-length research conducted at UNB.

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