A group of like-minded manufacturers and suppliers is adopting the European model of clustering right here in Ontario.
The Bluewater Wood Alliance, a not-for-profit group, represents a ‘cluster’ of wood product manufacturers working together for the prosperity of their companies and the industry as a whole.
Alliance Chair Adam Hofmann, president of Bogdon & Gross Furniture Company Ltd. in Walkerton, said the Bluewater Wood Alliance was formed after careful planning and looking at what others – in this case the Europeans – are doing to stay competitive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
A study, financed by the Grey Bruce Regional Economic Development Partnership, helped them find and investigate a new approach to promote economic growth and sustainability in the local wood-manufacturing sector.
Hofmann said the alliance uses the clustering approach that has proven successful in Europe and encourages members to work together on common problems and share technology and resources to become more competitive and take back market share from imports.
The Bluewater Wood Alliance area is home to more than 60 companies in the advanced wood products manufacturing industries, which includes home, office and institutional furniture, solid wood flooring, veneer production, kitchen and bath cabinets and millwork.
The area’s wood products manufacturing sector currently employs about 700 with total sales of about $72 million.
Hofmann said the Alliance wants to attract and encourage many of these companies to join them, and in time, they may even expand into the surrounding counties.
“We want to bring these companies together for joint projects in skills development, technology transfer, export development and experience exchanges in our bottom-up driven association,” he says. The goal is to promote economic growth and sustainability of the wood products manufacturing industry in Grey and Bruce counties.
Bluewater consultants Josef (Sepp) Gmeiner and Blair Tullis, say the Alliance wants to help its members to be even more competitive and make their businesses stronger. It’s all about helping each other be better, about growth and sustainability and it is up to the members to set the agenda and drive the results.
Funding for the start-up has been provided in part, by FP Innovations, with further research funding from the Wood Manufacturing Council and the Wood Promotions Program of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry. The Bluewater Wood Alliance will continue to work with federal and provincial funding agencies to develop infrastructure and project funding, including working with educational institutions on the secondary and post-secondary levels to provide training and skills development for the industry.
Hofmann said although the Alliance is just in its infancy, the response to their efforts for more cooperation among companies in Southwestern Ontario has been phenomenal. They have already partnered with several groups and organizations, including Conestoga College, and members will benefit through these partnerships as they provide access to information and experience exchange workshops, training and skills development, technology transfer and networking meetings to name just a few.
The first networking meeting was held on Hanover, Ont. on June 22, where participants had a chance to lean more about the organization and hear a presentation on FSC certification.
Hofmann was pleased with the attendance and said he has had nothing but positive feedback from participants and prospective members.
“It’s still very early in the process, but we have already achieved a lot in a very short time and know it’s about spreading the word and telling people about the organization and its benefits.”
Bluewater Wood Alliance
Bluewater Wood Alliance board members:
•Chair - Adam Hofmann, president of Bogdon & Gross Furniture Company Ltd.
•Vice Chair - Dave Geikie, COO of Durham Furniture Inc.
•Secretary/Treasurer - Paul West, president of West Bros. Furniture
•Thomas Klein, president of Speke Klein Furniture Incorporated
•Dennis McGlynn, vice president of Bernie McGlynn Lumber Ltd.
•Andrew Schuster, president of Crate Designs
•Mike Vokes, general manager of Vokes Furniture Incorporated.