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WEIMA June 2023 Leader
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Industry cluster countries lead the pack on GDP

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WMCO by Mike Baker
Mike Baker is the Chief Executive Officer of the Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario. He can be reached at:
In my previous column, I spoke about the importance of collaboration within an industry being the key to future success. Industry clusters in the EU are the hub of innovation and company growth and development. The idea is that the focus is not only on individual companies, but also on the development of the collective “whole” to be locally and globally competitive.
In industry clusters, concerns of domestic competition are put aside as minds and doors are opened to new ideas and ways of doing business. Synergies from sharing ideas and best practices and solutions merge into a collective sense of being on top of the “latest thing” that can move your business forward.
A very recent example of this happened on the WMCO member’s WhatsApp Manufacturers Only chat group. This is a moderated chat group that connects members in real time to ask other manufacturers questions, and to share information 24-7.
A member asked the group if they were running a particular type of machinery and process integration (connecting CAD to ERP, dowel machines and case clamps, among others). A fellow member responded, and invited them to his shop. Upon realizing who it was, the member with the inquiry offered to decline for fear of a sense of competition since he was from same region. The member who replied to them said: “ I don’t care, come on down”. After that, four more members chimed in to invite 
him to their facilities to see what they are doing.
This sounds like a small thing, but it is the connectivity of the cluster model that brings them together, and when it multiplies, it has a huge impact. Imagine this happening with 130 companies at the same time! This is the key to the success of our industry: collaboration. It creates innovative thinking on how we all adapt and apply technology, automation, and integration to our own individual business models.
Again, I would like to refer to the examples of clusters in Europe who are 30 years ahead of us here in Canada, and the GDP of those countries that have well-established clusters tell the story:
Of the 10 top nominal GDP-rated countries in the world, Canada is ranked 10th, behind Germany (3rd), U.K. (5th), France (7th), and Italy (8th) and also Brazil (9th) ( These countries leading Canada in GDP all have well-established industry cluster networks across several sectors. Companies in Canada and our governments are starting to learn about the value and power that cluster ecosystems have to drive the economy.
As mentioned in the last article, WMCO attended cluster training in the EU in 2011 and 2016 at the Cluster Academy, in Linz, Upper Austria: Clusters and co-operations (
Through the above link, you will see clusters established for automotive, clean tech, IT, plastics, mechatronics, medical technology, furniture/timber and wood manufacturing, and food. This multi-cluster “hub” is a one-stop shop for all companies to get financing, business licenses, and all start-up resources, and yes: access to their industry cluster “eco-system”.
When we visited there in 2016, our industry members were envious about how supports for businesses were all located in one place to make it easy for entrepreneurs to succeed. Here in Canada, we have to go to multiple places to put all the pieces together to get the help we need, including important networks like clusters.
WMCO is also a member of the TCI global cluster network ( where there are hundreds of clusters from around the world collaborating together and learning from each other to develop and grow their clusters. Clusters really are a community and ecosystem of manufacturers, suppliers, academia, and government partners.
Putting the concept of collaboration into action on Dec. 9, WMCO member Archmill House (commercial millwork manufacturer located in Ancaster, Ont.) hosted a first ever WMCO Hybrid – Plant Tour Focus Group. Hybrid is the term used to describe both in-person, and online virtual delivery at the same time. It is a live simulcast feed of the event to a zoom forum, while also having people there, in-person. Some members were anxious to get together, while others preferred the option of participating in an event from the convenience of their office. We had 25 in-person registered to comply with COVID-19 protocols of the time, and the same number registered on the virtual zoom side. (WMCO plans to run all future events going forward in this hybrid model wherever possible).
Leading off the tour was Director of Operations Curtis Buchan providing insight into how Archmill House has reached the level of success of where they are today. The event began with a live feed virtual walk through of the plant with the tour host accompanied by the in-person attendees.
The live engagement of Q&A throughout the tour and group discussion was provided via a live two-way audio feed between tour host Curtis Buchan and myself, as Zoom meeting facilitator, with Ryan Tabone, WMCO program coordinator & advisor managing the filming, audio and video feed, editing and production. The tour video is available for WMCO members to watch on demand in the member area of the WMCO website. (Kudos and thanks go to Ryan Tabone for his technical production skills to make this happen!)
One tour topic brought together wood manufacturers of all sizes to review what methods are producing results to address the labour shortage. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the trade skills sectors faced headwinds of sourcing skilled labour effectively. As the dramatic rise in wood products demand surged during the past two years, manufacturers have continued to struggle to source talented and capable workers.
Members shared ideas and methods that impacted their employee recruiting, as well as recruiting services that have had a positive impact on their talent sourcing efforts. Other manufacturers shared their best practices of how they have been able to retain their workforce. This collaborative discussion provided a valuable opportunity for members to learn from each other, regardless of size or segment in our industry.
“Walking the talk” - this collaboration theme has now begun to extend across our industry associations.
Recently, WMCO has opened our export development events at no cost to members of CKCA and AWMAC, and has also now offered WMCO training events at preferred non-member rates to these organizations. This is all in an effort to engage the entire industry more inclusively, and to further build collaboration across our industry. This is truly a first for our industry and we look forward to more in the future. After all, we are all in this together as Canadian manufacturers trying to be successful in a very competitive world environment. Helping each other is the answer.
Stay tuned for the next WMCO article that will address culture change, and how important it is for the sustainability of our industry in Canada.
For more information on WMCO, visit our website at

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