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Op-ed: Record manufacturing sales quietly powered Saskatchewan’s economy in 2014

Published by CME Staff on December 31, 2014

By Derek Lothian

There are three primary ways to generate new wealth in an economy: You can grow it, you can extract it, or you can manufacture it.

For decades, Saskatchewan has been synonymous with the first two: An agricultural frontier, rich with both fertile ground and an abundance of natural resources, from potash to diamonds to uranium.

With softened commodity prices, however, and a return to a more 'normalized' farm season, 2014 may very well go down as the year that manufacturing finally pushed its way to prominence and onto the provincial map — as a core driver of economic prosperity, job creation and investment.

That’s not to say 2014 was without challenge. Softened commodity prices also brought on diminished demand for many industrial goods, particularly fabricated metal and machinery. Pair that with ongoing uncertainty in Eastern Europe, and continued protectionist rhetoric in the United States, and it would be easy to spot reason for apprehension.

But as famed American author, Norman Vincent Peale, once said: “In every difficult situation, there is potential value.” And to realize that value, one must simply turn to the numbers for inspiration.

When the final StatsCan data for the year is released in February, Saskatchewan manufacturing sales are expected to tally around $16.5 billion through 2014. This will be the third consecutive record year for output in the province, growing by more than 50 per cent since the depth of the recession.

In fact, since 2000 — assuming the trends hold true in November and December — sales will have soared by more than 130 per cent (compared to roughly 10 per cent nationally), while productivity will have jumped by more than 125 per cent. Saskatchewan manufacturers will also sustain more jobs than the forestry, mining, and oil and gas sectors combined.

We quietly innovate — that’s what manufacturers here have always done. We build ambulances and pressure vessels, we help land spacecraft on speeding comets, we feed the world with the latest advancements in technology, and we provide the customized solutions to attract some of the largest capital projects in the nation.

It is an industry easily overlooked, simply because of how entrenched it is into the fabric of our province. Frontier, Annaheim, St. Brieux, Englefeld, Langbank: Take a tour through any one of these communities and you’ll quickly see the very real impact of manufacturing — thriving schools, bustling grocery stores and banks, and new recreation facilities.

Go for a drive in north Saskatoon or northeast Regina, and marvel at the investments being made in our own backyard (every dollar in manufacturing sales generates up to $3.50 in total economic activity).

Yes, we are, and will be for quite some time yet, a province built around farming and resource development. But Saskatchewan is also a province of manufacturers — some of the best in the world. So it’s important we all take a moment to reflect on the influence the sector had in 2014, and ponder how we can all support this vital part of our economy in the year ahead.

Derek Lothian is the Vice President of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters — Canada’s largest and oldest trade and industry association — as well as Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council.

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