Trading up

Trading up
Photo credit: Brian Simpson, Gov. P.E.I.

Global exports are on a promising upward trend with aerospace, bioscience and advanced manufacturing leading the way

When it comes to trade, Canada’s smallest province is the kid at the playground with the coolest Pokémon cards. Last year, Prince Edward Island sent out $926.1 million worth of international exports, a 6.3 per cent increase from 2012. Which, by the way, boasted a whopping 15.4 per cent increase over 2011. Trade is clearly making a difference to the provincial economy; GDP grew by 1.4 per cent, putting P.E.I. in second place for the highest percentage of growth among the Atlantic provinces.

Many of us have been enjoying P.E.I. lobster and potatoes for as long as we can remember. Clearly, these areas are still thriving. Over the past few years, however, Prince Edward Island has been expanding its horizons, and it’s working. According to Allen Roach, Prince Edward Island’s Minister of Innovation and Advanced Learning, most of the change is occurring in their newer sectors, including aerospace, bioscience, and advanced manufacturing.

And these new sectors are no small potatoes (that’s right, we said it).

Roach says that by mid-September of this year alone, the province had already exported $25 million more in turbo propellers than last year.

Roach is directly involved with Innovation P.E.I., the province’s main economic development agency. The agency is made up of a number of export development and trade teams, including Trade Team P.E.I., which assists more than 100 companies each year.

“Our department offers programs that are directly geared towards helping businesses that are exportoriented,” says Roach. “If we have a company that’s interested in exporting their products, we’ll work with them very closely to help them prepare to enter that market and to introduce them to companies globally.”

Roach says Innovation P.E.I. has business development offi cers who not only attend one-on-one meetings with businesses and potential customers, they work with those businesses to help them get ready to go on sales missions. That includes both fi nancial assistance and planning. They also offer a range of programs that offer education, advice, and help with potential buyers.

“Recently, we’ve been bringing businesses together in clusters to work together locally and do business globally,” says Roach. These newly clustered businesses are spread across a number of sectors, including aerospace, fi nance, communications, IT, and notably, bioscience.

Off the TransCanada Highway, just outside of Charlottetown, there’s a 65-acre BioCommons Research Park. This is the home of the P.E.I. Bioscience Cluster, a group of more than 35 bioscience companies like Aqua Bounty Canada, BioVectra, Novartis Animal Health and Technology Crops International; eight research institutions; and a handful of government agencies and departments. All of these operate under the umbrella of an incubatorlike organization called BioAlliance.

Business is booming, and Rory Francis, the executive director of P.E.I. BioAlliance couldn’t be happier. He recently heard Export Development Canada’s chief economist Peter Hall speak at a trade event, and according to Francis, Hall announced that P.E.I.’s bioscience industry (which wasn’t on anyone’s radar a few years ago) is now the island’s seventh biggest import.

Most of the BioAlliance companies focus on pharmaceuticals. According to Francis, these businesses saw an opportunity to focus on health conscious consumers interested in preventative health products and decided to pursue it, with support from BioAlliance and Innovation P.E.I. “Assisting companies that are creating new products in that space has been important in developing local companies and watching them grow, and in attracting technology into P.E.I.,” says Francis. “And that’s been very much a team effort between BioAlliance, Innovation P.E.I. and the National Research Council. We’re providing a really good ecosystem for companies to grow within, in terms of seed capital, early stage fi nancing, early stage capital, and helping with human resources and infrastructure. All the things it takes for companies to be as successful as they can be when bringing products to market.”

Here, too, the numbers are telling, with the industry employing almost 1,000 people, earning revenue of $124 million and boosting the provincial GDP by $140 million in 2012. The industry is also helping to retain young people and bring new people into a province with an aging population. Holland College has been putting out well-trained graduates and the University of Prince Edward Island has adapted some of their business and science programs to help with the bioscience industry’s human resources pool. And when it comes to attracting outside talent, Francis says P.E.I.’s got it made. “P.E.I.’s not a bad place to live. It’s a great place for young professionals to raise a family, we’re a small city, and Charlottetown and Summerside both have really good amenities, services and culture. P.E.I. sells pretty well.”

The bioscience industry isn’t the only one getting creative with their human resources. Aerospace is, too. According to Roach, most of their employees are from the island. They’re recruiting people who have been working with their hands for years, in everything from fish factories to body shops, and putting them through the aerospace program at Holland College. And although these individuals are paying for their own education, there’s such a demand that everyone has found a job when they’ve finished. “They’re great employees because they’re used to the processing line of work, where you have to do it perfectly and in very tight parameters,” says Roach.

The success of these new industries is starting to create a ripple effect across some of the more traditional industries on the island. As the people working within these businesses begin to mingle at events, word of international opportunity is spreading. And organizations like Innovation P.E.I. are working hard to maintain that energy. “We do a lot of work to encourage businesses to excel, to not be afraid to enter the global market. And I think that message is getting through to small and medium-sized businesses now,” says Roach. Later, he elaborates, “Some of these companies, even if there’s no market for them here on the island, or even nationally, there may be a market for them internationally.”

The P.E.I. Brewing Company is a great example. While they’ve had a strong presence on the island, even venturing into Newfoundland and New Brunswick, they took a leap last year and broke into the Western Canadian market, beginning with Alberta.

With the province’s total employment up 1.8 per cent in 2012, bringing it to 74,100 (the highest employment numbers ever) it’s clear that the province’s focus on exports is making a much-needed positive impact on the island’s economy. And despite the island’s small size, their innovative business sense and enterprising people have proven they can make big things happen–fast. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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