From research to economic development: a recipe for success

Now is the time for Canada to double down and focus on economic growth

The secret sauce of success is no secret at all. The ingredients are well-known: talenttools and conditions. Fortunately, Canada possesses all three.

The world is in a race for the first ingredient, talent, but this is one competition that Canada can win hands down. This year, more highly skilled graduates than ever received their diplomas at Canadian universities, polytechnics and colleges. This fact alone represents a tremendous asset for the country.  As we see baby boomers leaving the workforce in droves, well-educated graduates will be the prize every company seeks.

Talent, however, is nourished through education and education does not happen overnight. It takes years of hard work and applied study for people to pursue their dreams. It requires long-term investments by families, communities, provinces and the nation. We are fortunate to have strong, vital institutions, dedicated faculty and highly motivated students. We must continue to nurture this resource which has developed over time.

Even still, Canada’s talent well is deep and rich. Our population is diverse, and our potential is greatest when we continue to attract talent from around the world who bring their perspective and energy to our communities and places of employment.

Also essential are the tools, including labs, libraries, incubators, experimental farms, research vessels and data banks. Undergraduates, graduates and postdocs need state-of-the-art equipment to acquire the skills they will bring to Canadian companies that are competitive in markets at home and around the world. Last year alone, 2,238 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students who had used research infrastructure funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) moved into the workforce. Seventy-nine percent of them secured employment in Canada, with 67 percent of them being employed in the private sector. 

The Microsatellite Science and Technology Centre offers a fine example of how having the right tools leads to collaboration among researchers, students and private enterprise. Located in the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, the centre partners with GHGSat Inc., an international leader in its sector. This company operates a fleet of high-tech satellites that track greenhouse gas emissions from the Earth’s orbit, providing critical information to help solve the challenges of climate change.

And finally, the conditions for success are environments that inspire new ways of thinking, of problem-solving. They are the innovative locations like Toronto Metropolitan University’s DMZ Zone that brings together talented faculty and students with entrepreneurs seeking new ideas.

They include environments like the facilities in the institutions that make up the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), where small- and medium-sized companies in Ontario collaborate with researchers to turn innovations into commercialized products.

At the University of Calgary, a similar focus on entrepreneurship attracted $504 million in research revenue last year, an increase of over 10 percent in a single year. This demonstrates how bringing talent, tools and conditions together reaps important results.

We must continue to create spaces where ideas collide, resulting in new possibilities for products and production, unexplored ways of doing business and revitalized communities. Business and industry must be brought into these spaces and researchers into communities. One resource available to help innovators and entrepreneurs connect with research is the CFI’s Research Facilities Navigator. Consulted annually an average of 70,000 times, this online database helps locate facilities in some 28 sectors where ideas can be discussed, samples tested and prototypes developed.

Research and innovation have led and continue to lead to the commercialization and development our country needs. Nurturing talent, continuing to provide cutting-edge tools and facilities for learning and experimenting and establishing the conditions that bring together the worlds of research and economic development, are our recipe for success.

This opinion piece by CFI CEO and President, Roseann O'Reilly Runte, originally appeared in The Hill Times on Monday, May 9, 2022. Connect to the Research Facilities Navigator, an online directory created by the CFI to connect businesses with the research equipment and expertise they need to succeed.