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Industry networking: An important task to move your business forward

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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: mbaker@wmco.ca
As we all get busy with the day-to-day operation of our businesses, its easy to fall into the trap of working “in” your business. This is especially true since the pandemic and the increased demand combined with our labour shortage. For business leaders and owners, however, you can’t move forward unless you spend more time working “on” your business than “in” it. Making the time to get out and speak to other manufacturers is a critical piece to the puzzle to improve your business. It means reflecting on what your pain points are and opportunities, and looking to leverage the knowledge and experience of others along the way. In turn, reciprocation on your part,  greases the wheels for true value for you, creating a healthy industry ecosystem.
The EU has been doing this for more than 30 years with its industry clusters. Adding to the value for us in Ontario is the existence of a wood industry cluster that includes all segments of our industry including cabinetry, millwork, furniture as the dominant ones, but also mass timber builders, modular homes, and other niche wood products. Having all segments of companies networking together is particularly beneficial; since we all have many things in common. However, you would be surprised how healthy it is for you to meet and speak with wood companies outside your segment.
In June, the Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario (WMCO) hosted its quarterly networking event and AGM, hosted by the Woodworking Centre of Ontario at Conestoga College in Kitchener. Topics for these events are generated from industry members, and reflect current trends and needs of today. Digital integration is a big ongoing theme and challenge for SMEs to move forward, and WMCO addressed the ERP issue along with some government programs available, combined with risk management strategies for SMEs.
A five-company manufacturing discussion panel addressing digital integration and ERP, with benchmarking and learning, was just one of the topics that pulled the WMCO wood industry members out of their shops in full force with more than 70 companies registered.
The event started with a networking lunch provided by WMCO member sponsors Seredex, Planit Canada, Ceinapps, Cowan Insurance and Conestoga College. Members were welcomed by Joni Jean, chair, Schools of Engineering & Technology and Trades & Apprenticeship. WMCO CEO Mike Baker provided an update of WMCO initiatives and a context for WMCO’s partnership with Conestoga College as being an important source for our workforce development.
LIGNA 2023: Sepp Gmeiner of Lignum Consulting provided a brief overview of the LIGNA show and the highlights. WMCO will be working to provide a more detailed presentation after the 2025 show, and possibly organize a WMCO cohort to attend.
Next followed a presentation by Stewart Cramer, chief manufacturing officer of NGen Canada. Stewart presented an opportunity for members to receive funding to participate in a cohort of their Workforce Transformation Fund and the business Transformation Leadership Program. Companies pay $1,500 for $15,500 worth of assessments, learning, a customized business transformation plan, and upskilling opportunities for three current employees. NGen Workforce Transformation Funding is available on a first-come first-served basis for 300 manufacturers and 1,000 existing employees distributed amongst the manufacturers taking part in the program. WMCO will be running a webinar on more information and how to access the program, with the goal of organizing a WMCO cohort.
The first Main Event was the discussion panel of five manufacturing companies addressing digital integration ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). WMCO member companies Braams Kitchens, Wye Creek Woodworks, CCW Millwork, and Woodland Horizons, moderated by WMCO CEO Mike Baker, were asked to tell their story referring to the following questions:
What issues and challenges preceded your decision to move to ERP?
Describe your journey to prepare and select your ERP
What successes and benefits have you realized?
What challenges have you had implementing it and what would 
you do differently?
Next steps with your system 
going forward…

This was a very dynamic and moving account of each company’s story, sharing their experiences; providing rich learning opportunities for members and also for the panelists through the probing Q&A that ensued.
WMCO members can watch all videos of events if they happen to miss out. Not a member? Its easy to join to gain access here: Join Now – Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario (wmco.ca)
Following a nice long networking break, Alex Bilik of Cowan Insurance provided an informative and revealing presentation on Loss Prevention in the Wood Industry. Alex really knows his stuff. His presentation included the following topics:
Insurance/Risk Management Overview
Property: Building(s), Equipment, Stock, Loss of Income / Supply Chain /Transit
Liability: Premises, Products, Vehicles, Cyber (First & Third party)
Accounts Receivables

Other Guidance:
Insurance is not a RRSP
Interest Rates/Labour/Materials
Insurance is not a maintenance plan
What makes your operation better?  
What risk controls do you practice (photos, sign-offs, waivers)?
Employee on-boarding procedures, work processes?
Is your WSIB good?  i.e. do you typically receive credit every year?
ISO/COR etc.

Members then enjoyed more networking and a tour of the Woodworking Center of Ontario, followed by more networking and food and beverage at the Edelweiss Tavern; famous in Kitchener for its schnitzel!
A big thank-you to Conestoga College for hosting this event, our event lunch sponsors, and the member panellists and guest speakers. Be sure to watch the videos capturing the immense knowledge shared at this event!
If you are not a member of the only industry cluster for the advanced manufacturing industry in Canada, its time to join! Mark your calendars for Oct. 4, for our next quarterly networking event!

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