Written by: Karen Behune Plunkett, CEO and President, WEtech Alliance.
As WEtech entered its new corporate year, the identifying of strategic needs for both the organization and the client and membership will determined the actions items and initiatives for the year. The current appointed Board of Directors is more reflective of the region’s economic landscape and sphere of influence.
The Board and management had identified that the business and existing funding models related primarily to business in the start-up and early acceleration stages. Windsor-Essex and now Chatham-Kent are heavily inventoried in Advanced Manufacturers who would be greatly benefited with additional advisory services and access to many of the programs distributed through our funders.
WEtech created two primary opportunities to expand our value proposition to this existing and rebounding sector. Firstly, through additional funding from The Ontario Trillium Foundation, Dr. Irek Kusmierczyk was hired and developed a Robotics program which resulted in the creation of a new permanent Windsor Essex Great Lakes FIRST Robotics Competition Regional. The inaugural Regional took place at The University of Windsor, April 3-5, 2014 and hosted 1500 students from Ontario, Michigan, Ohio and New York and conservatively contributed over $1.2 million dollars to the local economy. It was a tremendous success and most importantly three of Windsor-Essex’s top independent industry leaders, Valiant, CentreLine & REKO supported the event both physically as well as financially. Industry is very pleased that the continuation of our activities in this space speaks positively to the shortage in the skilled trades pipeline for the future, as well as the encouragement of youth (male AND female) being exposed to STEM curriculums. The program continues to be expanded with regards to uptakes and outreaches to both secondary and primary students with the intent to have a Robotics workshop taking place in the summer at St. Clair College. Both the University of Windsor and the St. Clair College, in appreciation and support of this program are offering $1000.00 bursaries for students in STEM commencing September 2014. With regards to Youth, WEtech launched an Entrepreneurial Program for Aboriginals which included 18 attendees with 3 sustainable businesses emerging. The program in concert with YEP and Union Gas has been renewed for 2014/15.
Through an additional Ontario Trillium Foundation grant we have hired Dan Brown (Youth) to develop a strategy for Youth Retention and Attraction which is at a crisis point in this region.
Additionally, Dr. Karim Amellal was hired to work specifically with SME’s in Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent in the area of Rapid Prototyping, new technologies and lean processes. WEtech has launched a series, beginning March 2014 promoting 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping. The next session, which will include a cross-border audience, is scheduled in collaboration with the University of Windsor Engineering Department May 8, 2014 and will target Industry, to demonstrate the impact and momentum of this technology.
WEtech has identified as a priority the ability to expand to being a cross-border Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) by expanding our collaborative partners to include those that exist in Michigan and Ohio. We have identified three additional clusters that we will target this year:
- Health Sciences
- Medical Devices
- Rapid Prototyping
Our membership has surpassed 650 and we remain active as a lead voice in the promotion of innovation and technology through a robust offering of programs, advisory services and training. Our outreach is a continuous improving process as the new and more specific priorities have solidified for this regional RIC.
With respect to new jobs creation, the sectors that WEtech operates in that will have the largest short term growth, remain Digital and Advanced Manufacturing.
Management and the Board of Directors are confident that like any For Profit Business, building a strong foundation is the critical factor in predicting a successful future for both the organization and the region.