Imagine you’ve worked nearly your whole life for one company – you excel at your role, love the industry, and plan to work there until you retire. Then, one day you arrive at work to learn you no longer have a job. 

Downsizing, lack of demand, new industry regulations or moving the company altogether – the reasons are endless, and distressing all the same. When mass layoffs happen, it’s devastating to you, the other families who have lost a source of income, and to the community at large who will also suffer from the ripple effect closures bring. 

Individuals are forced to either start over in a new career or relocate to a new city to find work in their preferred industry, and uprooting your life isn’t easy. Communities experience outmigration and municipalities struggle to cope with a dwindling tax base. Whole industries can cease to exist in a region if key industry players fail. 

For some companies, closure is inevitable; large companies in major industries are being disrupted by small, emerging startups, or impacted by changes in consumer behaviour and market demand. But for others, it can come down to driving competitiveness through innovation can be the determining factor in whether they are able to remain open and sustain the communities that have come to be so dependent on these sectors.

In Atlantic Canada, there are a staggering number of companies that have closed or downsized because of a lack of innovation or ability to adapt to market changes. The 2012 closure of a High Liner Foods seafood processing plant in Burin, Newfoundland, which was noted as a “mainstay” in the community’s economy for almost 70 years, was a crippling loss for an industry already facing challenges. Pictou County in N.S. experienced a tough blow in 2014 when Michelin announced it was cutting 500 jobs because of changes in North America’s tire market. Last year, PEI’s Cavendish Farms closed their fresh potato packing plant in response to a supply shortage. 

Our region’s traditional industries – such as fisheries, agriculture and tourism, for example – have historically driven economic activity and job creation in both our rural and urban communities. However, in today’s globally connected and increasingly competitive marketplace, these industries are facing new challenges that, in some cases, threaten their sustainability. 

Unifor, a national union that represents over 23,000 forestry workers across Canada, believes Nova Scotia’s forestry industry would ‘collapse’ if an established company like Northern Pulp closed its doors. According to the union’s economic impact study released last month, Northern Pulp is generating major economic activity in the province; the report suggests nearly half of the $279 million they spend annually goes to purchasing, harvesting and transporting raw materials from around Nova Scotia. The report also noted that in 2018, more than 1,300 businesses had supply chain connections to Northern Pulp, and the company supported more than 2,600 full-time equivalent jobs, with workers earning $128 million in income.

So what can businesses do to stay ahead? Corporate leaders in traditional industries can protect their companies by leading the industry disruption through strategic, innovation-driven initiatives. 

Building a corporate innovation program can begin as simply as implementing regular innovation skills training in topics including design thinking and human-centric program design. Then you can scale to activities such as pilots and partnerships with startups, or even co-locating with entrepreneurs at an innovation hub like Volta. 

Before making the decision to invest resources into corporate innovation, there are a few steps companies can take to ensure success. A business’ leadership must first determine their innovation goals and identify key metrics for success. Then, create or revise policies and procedures to allow innovation to occur at all levels of the organization, without the restrictions that are often found in a corporate environment. 

Next, champions of corporation innovation have to empower their people in the organization to approach challenges differently. Training helps foster an innovative mindset among employees; however, creating a culture that not only embraces innovation, but also defines it in the context of the company’s purpose is just as important when it comes to introducing or growing a corporate innovation program. 

Finally, companies should consider the community resources available to support them on their innovation journey. Post-secondary institutions, government, non-profit organizations and community groups are all examples of resources in the innovation ecosystem that corporates can tap into to enrich their experience. 

It’s important to remember that innovation isn’t exclusive to technology-driven businesses – any business can begin integrating innovation into their company culture when equipped with the right mindset, tools, and resources. We are beginning to see some of the region’s leading companies embrace this mentality; over the past year we’ve had more than 25 Corporate Members from a variety of industries – ranging from insurance to accounting – join our community of innovators. 

One of Atlantic Canada’s biggest opportunities in the next 25 years is finding ways to help the industries that have supported our economy over the last century adapt so they continue to generate economic opportunity in the future. Corporate innovation is one of the most effective tools that our region’s traditional industries can use to leverage that opportunity. 

If you’re interested in learning more about using corporate innovation to adapt industries, join us on September 26 at our second annual Innovate Atlantic conference, where we will be discussing this topic and more. Visit innovateATL.ca to learn about the sessions during this full day of insightful panel talks, inspiring keynote presentation, and engaging breakout sessions. 

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