Winnipeg, sitting smack in the geographic centre of North America, is quickly becoming the nation’s hottest hub for advanced manufacturing.

That’s important, as manufacturing continues to be a major driver of Canada’s economy, making up 10 percent of our GDP, accounting for roughly half of our total exports, and providing a large number of high-quality jobs.

“Manufacturing is the creator of wealth,” says Ron Koslowsky, Vice President of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) Manitoba. “And for every manufacturing job, there are two other jobs created in the service sector to support the manufacturing industry.”

Manitoba’s capital has a long history in the manufacturing sector despite its remoteness, or perhaps because of it. “We’re in the middle of nowhere in terms of the marketplace,” says Koslowsky. “So a lot of the things that have been developed here were initially developed because we didn’t have access to the same supply chains as other regions. Today, we’re the most diversified province in terms of broad manufacturing.”

Prosperity through diversity

The history of manufacturing diversity, along with some of the lowest business operating costs in North America, has helped Winnipeg and Manitoba remain strong through difficult economic times, positioning them for a rapid rise during the recovery. “Manitoba’s economy did very well through the downturn because of our diversity in manufacturing,” says Bob Hastings, CEO of West Canitest R&D (WestCaRD). “We have the largest bus manufacturer in North America, we’ve got the largest composites manufacturing facility, we’ve got a strong aerospace sector, a strong food sector, and a strong furniture-making sector, among many others. And the major companies are not in each other’s space, which really enables the collaborative environment.”

Collaboration may in fact be the secret sauce that truly empowers Winnipeg to take on a national — and global — leadership role in advanced manufacturing. “Everyone knows one another and we all work very well together,” says Sean McKay, President and CEO of the Composites Innovation Centre. “We talk about how we can grow the economy as a collective. That’s our real strength as a region, the way we all work together to identify the gaps and then actually do something about it.”

Continuing to grow the advanced manufacturing sector will require that existing companies be flexible and resilient, and that new companies be supported and encouraged. Fortunately, that’s something that Winnipeg is very good at. “Manitoba has a great startup environment,” says Martin J. Petrak, CEO of Precision ADM. “And now we’re becoming entrepreneurial in manufacturing. That’s a new opportunity that we have today that is enabled by advanced manufacturing technologies.”

What Winnipeg most needs right now, if the city is going to properly capitalize on this moment, is skilled workers. Manitoba has world-class post-secondary institutions, but new investment is required in the skills training that makes advanced manufacturing hum. As jobs continue to grow, however, it’s inevitable that the workforce will follow.