MONTREAL — Quebec’s aerospace sector can create jobs and help grow the province’s wealth by collaboratively developing new, environmentally friendlier products, Economic Development Minister Clement Gignac said Friday.
“The Quebec aerospace sector is a jewel in our vision to create wealth,” Gignac told aerospace executives at Aero Montreal’s annual meeting.
Although the province’s gross domestic output is 15 per cent lower than that of neighbouring Ontario, he said that Quebec, by strengthening its aerospace and biopharmaceutical sectors, can help narrow that gap and ensure higher living standards for future generations.
The former bank economist credited Quebec companies for continuing to invest in research and development during the economic downturn. The spending has minimized the number of layoffs and positioned the industry to benefit from the recovery expected to begin later this year.
“We are optimistic that we will have, four years from now, much more jobs in that sector,” he said.
The minister defended his government’s financial support for the industry, including a $13-million grant to multinational giant General Electric to upgrade the products manufactured at its plant in Bromont, Que.
He said the expenditures are “necessary investments” that help the industry advance while ensuring taxpayers get a payback over a reasonable period of time.
He said one criteria used to determine if money should be given is whether there is a payback within 10 years.
Aircraft programs can take even longer to develop and commercialize, that’s why he said he’s not bothered by such government subsidies.
Quebec gives $3 billion annually in subsidies to business — $2 billion in the form of tax credits and most of the rest as loans and loan guarantees.
Gilles Labbe, the new president of Montreal’s aerospace think-tank Aero Montreal, said the sector has no choice but to develop products that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and noise.
“If we don’t do it then we won’t be competitive any more…and we won’t be in business 20 years from now,” Labbe, president of landing gear manufacturer Heroux-Devtek (TSX:HRX), said in an interview.
He said Montreal can preserve its position as one of the world’s largest aerospace clusters, employing 40,000 people and generating more than $12.4 billion in annual revenue, by protecting the environment and developing better performing products.
Marc Parent, outgoing Aero Montreal president and CEO of flight-simulator maker CAE Inc. (TSX:CAE), said the local sector has been resilient through the recession and continued to develop the next generation of equipment and enhance the competitiveness of Quebec’s supply chain.
He applauded the Quebec government for supporting the industry in its latest budget. The province said it will provide $70 million over four years to support industrial demonstration projects to develop “green” aircraft.
Improving collaboration between large and small companies is key to ensuring the region preserves its place among the world’s leading aerospace clusters, added Francois Caza, who authored a report on innovation for Aero Montreal.
“When you have a common goal it’s much more efficient because the backbone of that is more collaboration,” Caza said.
He said the focus is on developing new materials like composites, new systems using electrical power to replace hydraulic and pneumatic systems, improved navigation systems and more energy efficient products.
Caza, who is chief engineer at Bombardier Aerospace (TSX:BBD.B), said new environmentally friendlier products like the CSeries can also boost employment.
“That’s a whole new market, it’s a whole new industrial sector and a lot of jobs are associated with that,” he said.