21 April 2021
Sherbrooke Innopole’s 2020 Annual Report: Sherbrooke’s Industrial Sector Well-Positioned for the Recovery
PRESS RELEASE – Sherbrooke Innopole today released its 2020 activity report, summarizing the organization’s endeavours related to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to the orientations of its strategic plan. The report also provides an initial overview of the impacts of the crisis on Sherbrooke’s industrial and high-value-added services sector.
To access the 2020 annual report: http://bit.ly/RapportActSI2020 (in French)
The annual inventory of all Sherbrooke companies in this sector, conducted at the end of the year 2020, reveals that they took a major blow, as indicated by the net decline in the number of companies and of jobs. However, they have shown themselves to be aggressive and even proactive leading up to the recovery, with record investments – for a 4th consecutive year – of nearly $671M.
“We are facing a pandemic of historic repercussions whose impact is felt everywhere, including in Sherbrooke’s industrial and high-value-added services sector, which was already struggling to maintain its growth amidst a major workforce shortage. The high level of investment by Sherbrooke companies appears to point to their confidence in a recovery and their firm determination to prepare accordingly. Investments associated with R&D and productivity have been particularly high during this pandemic year. This shows that our companies continued to pursue innovation and have not lost sight of the digital shift, despite having to navigate through the COVID-19 fog,” pointed out the President of Sherbrooke Innopole’s Board of Directors, Alexandre Nault, noting in passing the vigour of the industrial and high-value-added sector prior to the pandemic.
Responding to COVID-19
Facing the pandemic and lockdown measures announced in March 2020, the team at Sherbrooke Innopole quickly took action by undertaking multiple initiatives to inform, equip, and support key-sector companies, while continuing to offer its regular services.
In the first few days following the declaration of a public health emergency in Québec, a crisis unit composed of resources with a range of expertise was formed, and the entire team was mobilized to survey each company on its needs, through personalized phone calls. This exercise, which was repeated through a web survey in September 2020, has guided the team’s actions throughout the pandemic. These actions included holding 26 information points and webinars – with a first semiweekly blitz in the spring; issuing some 60 informative emails; creating 2 continuously updated web pages; developing models of contingency plans, guides on health measures, and a list of local suppliers of sanitation products; and providing support adapted to the search for financial aid and the preparation of applications for such assistance.
The economic development agency commends the solidarity and resilience of Sherbrooke’s industrial and technological companies: “Several of them stepped up to help fight the pandemic, whether by participating in the development of vaccines and treatments, adjusting their production to make disinfectant products or PPEs, or designing new products and services to meet new challenges. The entire Sherbrooke Innopole team and its Board of Directors wish to congratulate and thank all of the employers and employees who have been devoting themselves to these tasks for months,” stated Mr. Nault.
Sherbrooke Innopole’s results
In parallel with its response to the pandemic, Sherbrooke Innopole continued with its efforts to work in line with its 2018-2020 strategic plan, set out in five broad orientations: Workforce, Expertise, Funding, Liaison, and Business Services.
Specifically in 2020, Sherbrooke Innopole’s team of professionals initiated or collaborated on 323 growth-generating projects, 240 of which were completed during the course of the year, to develop an environment conducive to the growth of Sherbrooke companies.
In terms of the Workforce component, business support initiatives and efforts to promote the area’s attractiveness did not wane; they did, however, switch to a virtual mode, including: 4 human resources codevelopment groups in which 28 companies participated, and 10 recruitment events, including 3 at the international level, for which a new attraction-catching image was created. Just before the pandemic hit, a tour of 4 agencies working in the field of employability in Sherbrooke was organized, with 10 companies taking part to learn more about pools of often-disregarded or under-exploited job candidates and the services these agencies offer. Focusing on talent retention, 8 projects promoting networking between students and companies were developed in partnership with educational institutions through the Estrie, A New Home project, including a new service helping with the recruitment of graduates or interns.
As a pillar of the sector-based economic development strategy, the Expertise orientation refers to the sectoral knowledge related to the five key sectors as well as the partnerships established at the local, regional, and international levels. In 2020, some of these included: 33 sector intelligence events (participation); 68 activities (organization or collaboration); 63 projects with partners specialized in export, innovation/digitalization, market intelligence, and intellectual property; 33 business projects in collaboration with ACET-Banque Nationale, Espace LABz, and Espace TI; and 50 active mentoring pairs, 24 of which were new.
To provide adapted support to companies that continue to be innovative despite the pandemic, the flagship marketing support program Validation d’Innovation Technologique à l’Essai (VITE – validation of pilot technological innovations) was enhanced through the City of Sherbrooke’s economic recovery plan, assisting a greater number of companies and allocating a higher maximum funding amount.
A new international collaboration was established: the Sherbrooke – Rennes – Arizona Entrepreneurial Triangle, uniting five economic development agencies wanting to facilitate the approaching and networking of companies within the partners’ territories – Destination Rennes, Le Poool (Rennes, Bretagne, France), Sherbrooke Innopole, Surprise Economic Development Department (Surprise, Arizona, United States), and Tech Parks Arizona (Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.). In partnership with the Government of Québec, Sherbrooke Innopole organized a virtual summit launch, which brought together 175 participants focusing on the theme of marketing disruptive innovations.
As for the Funding orientation, a total of $820 000 was invested in nine start-up, pre-marketing, innovation, and growth projects of Sherbrooke companies through one of the six Sherbrooke Innopole funds, producing spinoffs reaching $60M and creating or consolidating 164 jobs. Every dollar invested generated $72.65 in local investment.
“This is by far the highest ratio reached since 2010,” noted Josée Fortin, Director General of Sherbrooke Innopole from 2013 until last Friday. “This reflects the audacity of our local companies, who are still developing ambitious and innovative projects despite these tumultuous times. Hats off to them!” ”
In the context of the Liaison orientation—in reference to Sherbrooke Innopole’s role with municipal authorities in industrial localization and development projects—highlights include the assistance provided to 56 relocation and settlement projects, of which 23 were completed in 2020 (including the sale of five industrial sites), with expected investments exceeding $35.8M and the creation or maintenance of 378 jobs.
The Synergie Estrie regional project continued to broaden its mandate to all MRCs in the Estrie region. In Sherbrooke specifically, since 2018, more than 100 companies have adopted a circular economy approach with its support, which resulted in the diversion of 120 tonnes of residual waste from landfill and the generation of financial gains along with a reduction of operating costs amounting to $325 000.
A joint project involving Synergie Estrie, the Société de transport de Sherbrooke, and Sherbrooke Innopole enabled improvements to the provision of public transit in the Regional Industrial Park, thus providing employees with an alternative to driving and another asset to the recruitment of candidates.
In relation to the Business Services orientation, Sherbrooke Innopole’s team conducted 603 interventions with Sherbrooke companies to support them in their start-up, settlement, and growth projects. Of this number, 422 were completed in 2020, generating investments of $128.5M and creating or consolidating 1010 jobs.
“The expected spinoffs are another indicator of the resilience and determination of Sherbrooke companies, who are developing and carrying out projects despite the uncertainty associated with the pandemic. They also enable us to be optimistic about the recovery,” said Josée Fortin.
Lastly, Sherbrooke Innopole helped to inform its companies and to enhance their reputations via its website – more than 500 news items, blogs, and public events – and its social network platforms with 2736 publications on 16 social media accounts reaching more than 20 500 subscribers, including the Flash INNOV newsletter.
“The City of Sherbrooke is seriously committed to economic recovery within its territory, as evidenced by the support measures developed and the new investments approved. We thank Sherbrooke Innopole for having done so much. The 2020 activity report of the City of Sherbrooke’s economic development agency demonstrates the scope of its work. I would like to highlight the mobilization and the excellence of this team, which in addition to its regular activities, made multiple efforts to assist and support Sherbrooke companies during the pandemic,” stated Sherbrooke Mayor, Steve Lussier.
The year 2020 is the last year in Sherbrooke Innopole’s 2018-2020 triennial strategic plan, which in particular aimed to refine the service offered to ensure that its sector expertise and its endeavours closely reflect our companies’ issues and reality. “I can unequivocally state that this aim was attained, and the pandemic provided us with a new opportunity to prove it. Since 2018, Sherbrooke Innopole’s professionals have conducted 1250 interventions with companies, with expected investments exceeding $315M, and have implemented 633 growth-generating projects, often in partnership with the milieu,” summarized Josée Fortin, who officially passed the torch over on Monday to her successor as director general, Sylvain Durocher, ensuring the transition of handing dossiers over to him until April 30.
“I would like to take the opportunity of this last public forum to express my appreciation to the members of the Board of Directors for having enabled me to have such an enriching professional experience,” she continued. “And to my solid team of experienced, committed professionals with whom I have loved working, building, developing solutions, and creating lots of tools to help companies from the key sectors experience sustained growth over these past few years, as well as to all of Sherbrooke’s companies, I wish much continued success. Sherbrooke is very fortunate to have such dynamic, venturesome, resilient, and inspiring entrepreneurs who contribute on a daily basis to the creation of wealth by and for the people who live here.” ”
For his part, Alexandre Nault reiterated Ms. Fortin’s remarkable contribution as director general of Sherbrooke Innopole for the past seven and a half years. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I thank Josée Fortin for her vision and her commitment to making Sherbrooke a prosperous and innovative city, through concrete, innovative, sustainable solutions in terms of funding, infrastructure, and services developed with all of the team.” ”
Profile of the industrial and high-value-added services sector
According to the 2020 annual inventory conducted by Sherbrooke Innopole of companies in Sherbrooke’s industrial and high-value-added sector, the five key sectors – Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technologies, Cleantech, Life Sciences, and Micro-Nanotechnologies – account for 19 374 jobs across 676 companies.
On the one hand, COVID-19 has drastically impacted the business environment, and despite government aid measures, companies have been heavily affected; on the other, in Sherbrooke in 2020, there has been a slowdown in entrepreneurial drive. This situation explains in large part the net loss of three companies from key sectors.
The relative instability of jobs in the industrial and high-value-added services sector has also been noted, related especially to business volume variations, cash-flow issues, and government measures restricting activities to a minimum. These factors forced companies to vary their workforce over the course of the year. Thus, the annual inventory of companies demonstrates a net loss of 1070 jobs in the key sectors. However, it is important to stress that this decline has been amplified due to a methodological change: “Indeed, to measure the true impact of COVID-19, the annual inventory counted the number of jobs at December 31, 2020, rather than the maximum number of jobs during the year – which would have been much similar to the pre-pandemic stage. This modification does not reflect the seasonal fluctuations in the workforce needs of a number of companies, particularly in the Advanced Manufacturing and Cleantech key sectors. A more accurate portrait of the repercussions of COVID-19 on the workforce will be possible at the conclusion of a 2nd year of collecting this data at the end of the year 2021,” observed Josée Fortin.
“These job losses are clearly deplorable, as they affect individuals and families. But I remain convinced that this is a circumstantial downturn that will be regained because, in the past, our companies have shown their agility and ingenuity to adapt their business models, to diversify their markets, and to recruit,” pointed out Alexandre Nault, citing the net creation of 513 jobs in 2019 and 1128 jobs in 2018.
For Sherbrooke Innopole’s new Director General, Sylvain Durocher, “The workforce scarcity, already in existence before the pandemic, remains one of the recovery’s major challenges. The essential digital shift must also be continued to boost the productivity and competitiveness of Sherbrooke’s companies at national and international levels. The current and post-COVID-19 business environments will provide opportunities, for example in terms of new products or services, sales channels, or niches, for example. For all of these business issues – and others –, key sector companies will be able to rely on unwavering help from the team at Sherbrooke Innopole to support and assist them.”
In terms of investments, close to 55% of key-sector companies, i.e. 369 of 676, invested more than $670.9M in optimization, innovation, and expansion projects. This is a new peak, which exceeds the records established successively since 2017 even though the number of companies having declared investments in 2020 is slightly lower.
“A large portion of the major investments at Produits Kruger has been attributed to 2020, boosting the proportion in Machinery and Equipment to 76%. If we ignore these for purposes of an advanced analysis, it is noted that Sherbrooke’s industrial and technological companies invested to a greater extent than usual in Research and Development, in particular those in the Life Sciences key sector,” stated Josée Fortin.
On the Board of Directors
At the annual general meeting of Sherbrooke Innopole, held yesterday, Alexandre Nault, Business Development Director at The Color Group, was re-elected as President of the Board of Directors, while Serge Auray, Founder and President of Laboratoire M2, and Manon Tremblay, President of Plastimum, were appointed to the vice-presidency, with Francine Turmel, professor at the Williams School of Business at Bishop’s University, named treasurer, and Marie-France Bélanger, Director General of the Cégep de Sherbrooke, named secretary.
About Sherbrooke Innopole
Sherbrooke Innopole is the Ville de Sherbrooke’s economic development organization for the industrial and high-value-added services sector. Its mission is to accelerate the development of companies from the five key sectors – Advanced Manufacturing, Cleantech, Information Technologies, Life Sciences and Micro-nanotechnologies – and ensure that Sherbrooke has an attractive and innovative business environment.
Source: Sherbrooke Innopole
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