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Ontario in Canada is already a leading aerospace and defence hub, but as its minister for economic development and growth, Brad Duguid, tells Natasha Turak, the province has ambitious growth plans to match its wealth of talent.

Q: Ontario is an established hub for aerospace and defence. How do you stay ahead of the curve?                                

A: First and foremost, what the aerospace sector is thirsty for today is talent. Fortunately in Ontario, our attainment rate for post-secondary education at 67% leads the industrialised world. Our talent is now considered to be among the best in North America and the world. That’s what is making Ontario a centre for driving disruptive technology, which is something that all industry – aerospace in particular – requires to compete in a fiercely competitive global economy. 

We also need to ensure that government is operating at the pace of business. So we have significantly cut back on red tape in Ontario and implemented easily accessible business support programmes, aided by our Jobs and Prosperity Fund. That helps seed some of that investment.

Q: How many jobs have aerospace investments created in Ontario, and what cutting-edge technologies are companies in the industry pursuing today? 

A: This industry employs upwards of 30,000 to 40,000 direct and indirect people in our province, and it’s important not just in volume but also in R&D investment. Aerospace invests more than any other sector in R&D, which has become a real strength for Ontario’s economy today. Global companies are looking for disruptive technology and artificial intelligence, sensor development, supercomputing, quantum computing, robotics and 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. Those six areas are globally competitive strengths that Ontario is very centred on, and that is giving us an enormous advantage when it comes to attracting companies that want to be at the cutting edge of those innovations. 

Q: Those are some of your competitive advantages. Being among the top jurisdictions for this sector, how do you maintain that position and what are your most notable recent investments? 

A: Like typical Canadians, Ontario hasn’t done a really great job of promoting itself, so our brand internationally is not as well known as a centre of excellence for innovation and aerospace. We need to change that.  

Companies are recognising that this is a place to be, both inside and outside of aerospace. In the next six months alone we will see $500m of new investment, much of it in R&D and supply chain investments. Already, General Motors is investing in its Oshawa research centre by hiring 1000 new Ontario engineers, to be a global centre of excellence for the development of autonomous vehicles. Cisco, a global ICT company, is looking to hire 6000 Ontario engineers and technicians to create its global centre for smart cities. Google has three offices now set up in Ontario. We’re seeing world-leading companies in technological disruption really being attracted to the province. That's a message we need to get out.

Q: American presidential candidate Donald Trump is opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement and has threatened to tear it up if elected. Does this worry you?

A: We live in a globally competitive economy and breaking down trade barriers is crucial to ensuring that the world economy continues to grow. In my view, any candidate that would run counter to that will impact the interests of the US more than any other country. The US is Canada’s biggest trading partner and Ontario’s biggest trading partner by far, so obviously we would have concerns about any candidate with a protectionist perspective. 

We’ve reached out to the Asia-Pacific region through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we’re very engaged with the EU, and we look forward to continuously strengthening our partnership with the UK post-Brexit. So regardless of what any candidate for the US presidency suggests, we want to ensure Ontario is seen as a global centre of excellence for R&D and FDI. We will continue to reach out to the world and hope that whatever emerges from the presidential election is compatible with where the world is going, and that’s breaking down barriers to trade, rather than creating them.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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