By Keith Stoodly: For some there is the allure of exporting: something akin to the grass being greener. For others there is the simple reality that the domestic market for specialized goods and services does not exist or is too small to sustain growth. Some argue that such is the case for Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean technology companies. As Canada has the world’s largest coastline, it is difficult to imagine an indigenous ocean technology company that cannot find a market domestically. Yet such is often the case. How is this possible?
Markets ebb and flow; new technologies render old technologies and products worthless; the successful marketers look for inflection points at which they deploy disruptive technologies at lightning speed; those that think that there isn’t a window of opportunity to exploit is a fool and fools only succeed despite themselves. Such was the case when Canadian firms enjoyed a substantially depreciated dollar. In short, exporting is a breeze when a company’s competitive advantage is the nation’s fiscal policy. With today’s par dollar, there is no longer an easy route to international competitiveness.
More than ever, Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean technology firms must focus on our domestic opportunities and win—they must. To lose, when Canada has what is arguably the world’s largest ocean responsibility, will ensure failure internationally.
Unlike the automotive industry, Canadian ocean technology firms should be enjoying a natural competitive advantage if Canada’s public policy is aligned with the magnitude of Canada’s ocean responsibility. Ocean technology cluster firms that focus on fisheries will argue that such is not the case, while Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean technology cluster firms that focus on ship design will surely benefit from the Government of Canada’s recent decision to support Canada’s shipbuilding industry to the tune of $30 billion.
Notwithstanding, to maximize the impact of this commitment, government should look beyond its shipbuilding policy, and embrace a broader defence industrial policy so as to ensure that much of the technology that goes on the ships is Canadian. Take the experience of Provincial Aerospace Ltd. (PAL).
We grew from a small training school to an international leader in fixed-wing maritime surveillance because of a public policy decision some 25 years ago. At that time, the Government of Canada decided that it would be more cost competitive to contract out its domestic maritime domain surveillance requirements, which at the time was defined by the monitoring of the 200 mile limit for illegal foreign overfishing activity.
PAL leveraged that opportunity domestically and internationally such that our current 160,000 hours of maritime surveillance experience is unparalleled by any other private-sector operator in the world. We have gone head-to-head with some of the largest multi-national defence companies and have won maritime surveillance contracts in the Dutch Antilles and the United Arab Emirates. While winning those contracts took enormous tenacity by a dedicated team of professionals, the win would never have been possible without first winning the domestic market that was made possible by public policy.
With more than 900 employees, PAL has emerged as a Tier 1 integrator that looks forward to the opportunity to bring our new capabilities back to Canada. The probability of success is again linked to public policy. With a par dollar, sound public policy that embraces innovation and natural competitive advantages is back in vogue; building cars at a 65 cent dollar is not.
Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada must continue to recognize the economic opportunities associated with its oceans and ensure that sound public policy supports our industry to enable it to exploit its full export potential. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the appointment of an Assistant Deputy Minister—Oceans, while long overdue, is a small step in the right direction.
Let’s hope that Canada soon follows our lead.
Keith Stoodley is Senior Vice President, Business Development and Government Relations with St. John’s-based Provincial Aerospace Ltd. He has 25 years of ocean technology experience including fisheries, aquaculture, marine biotechnology, ocean sensors and maritime defence and security. Keith was the founding chair of OceansAdvance.