Carp Road manufacturers continue building despite skills shortage

manufacturing

This article originally appeared in the April edition of OBOT Connect.

With existing firms investing in new equipment and sizable industrial land tracts available for development, the head of the Carp Road business association is predicting that one of Ottawa’s largest manufacturing hubs is poised to double in size in the coming years.

While the area’s manufacturing industry may be overshadowed at times by the local tech sector, several west-end firms are reaching new milestones and expanding at a rapid clip.

Profits are growing at BluMetric, which makes water purification systems, and perimeter security firm Senstar cleared a major hurdle last year in having its technology safeguard U.S. Air Force bases around the world.

There’s considerable diversity among the roughly 60 manufacturers who belong to the Carp Road BIA, which works with some 250 companies along the west Ottawa corridor overall. Loosely defined as companies that “make stuff” by BIA executive director Roddy Bolivar, Carp Road’s manufacturers run the gamut of firms making everything from computer components to kitchen cutting boards.

“The corridor has the largest vacant zoned employment land base in Ottawa, so our goal is to double the number of companies,” Bolivar said.

While many Carp Road firms face common challenges that threaten their growth trajectories, the BIA and some individual companies are working to overcome those barriers – a shortage of skilled workers chief among them.

“We have had a number of students apprentice at our shop from Algonquin College. When they have a graduating class, we have a bunch of students over to interview them,” says Bruce Legere, general manager of Camcor Industries. The company also participates in local career fairs, such as one held in late March in Carleton Place.

The firm specializes in manufacturing precision-machined components, assemblies and special machinery for customers in the aerospace, oil and gas, defence and space sectors, among others.

The company is currently seeing year-over-year growth of approximately 20 per cent, principally on the strength of sales to the U.S. defence market. In addition to hiring new employees, Camcor is investing in capital equipment including a new twin spindle lathe as well as and four- and five-axis milling machines.

Legere says the equipment will increase the company’s productivity, reduce its lead time and increase revenues.

Partnerships with several Ottawa-based manufacturing operations are also producing results, including a collaboration with Honeywell Aerospace focused on small satellite parts. Camcor also has a strategic business alliance with Sentry Precision, a local sheet metal and fabricating company to produce housing for electronic components in airplanes and satellites.

Another business that’s expanding at a similar clip is the Production Case Co., which purchases off-the-shelf travel cases before modifying them for the specific needs of its clients.

Company president Nigel Lever says the firm is seeing year-over-year growth of 15 to 18 per cent. Most of the company’s business comes from within Canada, particularly in the government, medical and military sectors. For example, the Canada Border Services Agency, Environment Canada and RCMP need custom cases to securely ship high-tech equipment.

Both Lever and Legere say attracting more qualified employees – and talented workers to the region in general – will be one of the keys to their growth in the coming years.