Mapping Canada’s Top Manufacturing Industries

By Will McKitterick, Andrew Alvarez and Darryle Ulama

Canada is home to a broad and diverse manufacturing sector. While not central to the country’s economy, manufacturing contributes substantially to the nation’s overall economic production and output. Furthermore, despite its decline over the past 10 years, Canada is still a world leader in manufacturing exports, research and development and employment. Though it manifests differently in each region, the manufacturing sector plays an important role in the economies of each province across the country.

This guide outlines the manufacturing base of each of Canada’s nine major provinces, and includes a description of the most impactful industries in each region.  Industries are profiled based on their relative importance in each province, which is measured by the size of their workforce as a share of each province’s total manufacturing workforce. Manufacturing trends vary significantly by region. Moreover, each industry faces a different set of distinct opportunities and challenges specific to its location. Using information from IBISWorld’s proprietary reports, this guide provides an overview of the intricacies that define Canada’s manufacturing sector.can1

Canada’s provinces by concentration of manufacturing employment

Despite its relative decline, manufacturing is still a diverse sector within the Canadian economy. Prominent industries include those related to chemical, food and beverage, petroleum and coal product, primary metal and transportation equipment production. Some of these industries are particular to specific provinces; for example, Canada’s Automobile Engine and Parts Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 33631CA), a heavy exporter, is highly concentrated in Ontario, enabling easy access to the United States’ largest automotive region. Others, such as the Meat, Beef and Poultry Processing industry (IBISWorld report 31161CA), are more dispersed across the country, in line with the scattered markets they serve. The following guide focuses on the industries that are the most impactful within each province.

Alberta

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Related to its extractive industries, a significant portion of Alberta’s manufacturing workforce comes from the Structural Metal Product Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 33231CA). Structural metal products include fabricated bar joists and reinforcing bars, metal plate work products, prefabricated metal buildings and other fabricated structural metal. In Alberta, structural metal products are used to construct oil and gas well platforms, pipelines and transmitting towers. This industry also benefits from Alberta’s relatively close proximity to the western part of the United States and British Columbia’s coast, which allows manufacturers to export products overseas to China. Finally, Alberta is also the Meat, Beef and Poultry Processing industry’s third-largest hub, as well as the largest centre for beef cattle production in Canada.

Alberta’s manufacturing sector is defined by the province’s natural resources. Since the early 1940s, Alberta has supplied oil and gas to the rest of Canada and the United States. The Athabasca River region, home to the Athabasca Oil Sands, is the natural resource hub of the nation. Its proven oil reserves are the third-largest in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Therefore, the Edmonton area, particularly Nisku Industrial Park, is a major centre for the Mining, Oil and Gas Machinery Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 33313CA). For example, Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil field services companies, operates a manufacturing plant for its drilling and evaluation segment in Nisku. Alberta as a whole is home to 63.7% of the industry’s manufacturing facilities. The extractive industry’s, as well as related manufacturing industries’, future will depend on ongoing fluctuations in the price of oil, which has dropped dramatically in recent months, as well as the future of the Keystone XL pipeline.

British Columbia

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British Columbia is also a popular location for downstream wood products manufacturers, including operators in the Wood Paneling Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 32121CA), which procures a variety of veneer, plywood, engineered wood and reconstituted wood products. Operators in this industry primarily use softwood lumber, of which British Columbia is the largest exporter in the world. Manufacturing employment in the resources sector has declined in recent years due to the recession, as well as a pine beetle infestation that has devastated forests across the province. Nevertheless, resurgent demand for lumber products from China has helped industry revenue recover, though it remains well below its prerecessionary high.

As with Alberta, British Columbia’s manufacturing sector is centered on its resource-based economy. However, while Alberta is rich in fossil fuels, British Columbia is the epicenter of lumber production and logging in Canada. According to Historica Canada, British Columbia holds about 24.0% of Canada’s merchantable wood and 19.5% of its forested land. Thus, the province is ideal for the Sawmills and Wood Production industry (IBISWorld report 32111CA), whose operators prefer to station close to British Columbia’s large supply of lumber. This industry, which produces a variety of lumber products, also benefits from British Columbia’s close proximity to the United States, where over 43.5% of its exports are destined, and its ports, which give companies access to markets around the world.

Manitoba

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With large areas of natural grasslands, Manitoba’s plains are also home to many of Canada’s hog, pig and livestock producers. Operators in the Meat, Beef and Poultry Processing industry prefer to locate close to the source of their inputs to cut down on high transportation costs. They will also seek out major metropolitan areas for this same reason, bringing them closer to consumers. Winnipeg, Canada’s eighth-largest province, provides an ideal market for meat producers looking to settle near a major demand hub.

Manitoba’s economy relies heavily on a number of sectors, including tourism, energy, oil, mining and forestry. However, the manufacturing sector draws a significant portion of its material inputs from the agriculture sector. In particular, the agri-food sector accounts for the largest portion of the province’s economy.  Southern Manitoba has climate and soil conditions ideal for growing a wide range of crops, including wheat and barley, which have traditionally dominated production since farming began within the province. Grain and oilseed farms account for 25.8% of all farms in the province, while wheat farms account for 9.8%; these farming operations consistently demand industry products. Field crop farmers use agricultural machinery intensely for cultivation, seeding, harvesting and baling, making Manitoba a good fit for the Tractors and Agricultural Machinery Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 33311CA).

New Brunswick

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As one of Canada’s three Maritime Provinces, New Brunswick relies heavily on fisheries and seafood production. New Brunswick has both freshwater and sea fisheries, with the latter generating the bulk of industry revenue. Lobster is the primary catch, but the industry also provides shrimp, herring and queen crab. In 2014, IBISWorld estimates that revenue for the Seafood Preparation industry (IBISWorld report 31171CA) is expected to total $4.9 billion. New Brunswick is expected to make up 11.4% of the industry’s establishments. Over the past five years, the industry has benefited from higher disposable income levels and health trends that favour lean protein found in seafood.

According to the latest official documents from the New Brunswick government, the manufacturing sector accounts for about one-tenth of the province’s GDP, with an estimated labour force of about 32,000 people. Though small, the province’s manufacturing base is fairly diverse. Manufacturing in New Brunswick is largely based on fish production, forestry and food processing. These industries are relatively dispersed throughout the province, with some concentration around the port facilities found in Saint John, a coastal city.

Newfoundland and Labrador

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While cod is considered to be the staple food item most associated with Newfoundland and Labrador, the province also has various other food related manufacturing operations, including a Canada Bread Company Ltd. Plant located in the province’s capital, St. John’s. Lastly, wood paneling comprises the next most significant share of manufacturing employment within the province thanks to popular tree types used for paneling within the region, such as the Newfoundland Black Spruce, which is popular for its durability.Newfoundland and Labrador is primarily recognized for its contributions to the Seafood Preparation industry (IBISWorld report 31171CA). With ideal coastal topography and a diverse coastal environment, Newfoundland is well known for its cod, winter flounder, lumpfish, lobster and various species of crab, making it an ideal environment for the Seafood Preparation industry to flourish. This industry accounts for a large portion of Newfoundland’s manufacturing sector, with nearly 60.0% of total manufacturing employment within the province. Newfoundland houses some of the largest seafood preparation companies in the country, such as Barry Group Inc. and Breakwater Fisheries Ltd., and is also home to a large number of owner-operators. Additionally, the province consistently ranks among the top three provinces in terms of total value of seafood preparation.

Nova Scotia

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The defense sector is vibrant in Nova Scotia. The province is home to 40.0% of the country’s military assets and houses some of the world’s leading defense and security operators, including Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and General Dynamics. Therefore, among Nova Scotia’s more prominent manufacturing industries are those related to defense and military operations, such as the Space Vehicle and Missile Manufacturing (IBISWorld report 33641bCA), which is valued at over $1.1 billion.Nova Scotia is Canada’s second-smallest province, and also a member of its three Maritime Provinces, the other two being New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Situated east of its fellow Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia’s geographic position enables strategic access to both American and European markets.

Manufacturing does not have a significant presence in Nova Scotia, although the province’s healthy fisheries, forestry and defense sectors spur a number of downstream and upstream manufacturing industries. For example, Nova Scotia’s plastics and rubber production industries (IBISWorld reports 32619CA and 32629CA), valued at almost $133.0 million combined in October 2014, together grew 10.1% over 2014, according to the latest data from Industry Canada. Nova Scotia’s manufacturing labour force is expected to total about 33,000.

Ontario

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Similarly, the Plastic Product Miscellaneous Manufacturing industry, which manufactures a variety of products across a range of segments, is also heavily reliant on trade, as exports generally account for one-third of industry revenue, with 90.0% destined for the United States. Additionally, the industry relies on several key industries to purchase its products. For example, automotive manufacturers, which use plastic in vehicle interiors and some engine components, account for a substantial share of revenue. As a result, proximity to key markets is crucial for operators in this industry. Ontario is estimated to be the most concentrated province for plastic manufacturers in terms of establishments, further amplifying the industry’s share of manufacturing employment. Lastly, Ontario is home to just under half of all of the Printing industry’s (IBISWorld report 32311CA) establishments; the industry accounts for 3.4% of manufacturing employment.

Ontario hosts a wide range of industry activity through several diverse segments. Industries located within the province benefit from its enviable trading ports, as well as the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, an underground highway that connects Detroit, MI to Windsor, Ontario, providing easy access to the US market. As a result, Ontario’s three-largest manufacturing industries all rely immensely on trade, particularly in regards to exports to the United States. Of these, the Car and Automobile Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 33611aCA) comprises the largest share of manufacturing employment. Ontario alone accounts for 59.3% of industry establishments, as this province is home to the headquarters of all of the Big Three US automakers (Ford, Chrysler and General Motors). It is also home to the only Toyota plant outside of Japan that assembles Lexus vehicles, as well as the location of Honda Canada’s manufacturing plant. Exports traditionally dominate the lion’s share of industry revenue, which is a primary reason for its heavy presence in Ontario.

Quebec

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Quebec has played a historic role in Canada’s aerospace market, beginning with the aviation market, which emerged there in the early 1900s. IBISWorld expects Quebec to claim 23.7% of industry establishments in Aircraft, Engine and Parts Manufacturing (IBISWorld report 33641aCA) and about 20.0% of industry establishments in Space Vehicle and Missile Manufacturing (IBISWorld report 33641bCA). Quebec provides attractive tax incentives to these manufacturers, while boasting institutional support from a number of academic and technical organizations and industry associations. Aerospace manufacturers that base their operations in Quebec include Bombardier, the largest aerospace company in Canada, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Bell Helicopter Textron Canada.

Boasting as Canada’s largest province by area and second-largest administrative division, Quebec is an economic powerhouse. Quebec’s manufacturing sector alone accounts for about a quarter of the country’s output and is valued at over $137.0 billion. Among the province’s main production industries are primary metal manufacturing, transportation equipment manufacturing and chemicals. Nevertheless, Quebec’s manufacturing sector has declined, as manufacturing continues to move overseas and US competitiveness recovers. In fact, between 1990 and 2013, the province’s employment declined by about 18.0%. Quebec’s manufacturing sector employs over 407,000 people, according to the latest data from Industry Canada.

Saskatchewan


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The manufacturing sector in Saskatchewan is characterized by its strong contributions in farming and raising cattle. About one-third of the province is farmland, with 41.0% of Canada’s arable land located within this area. Popular crops produced in Saskatchewan include rye, oats, wheat and barley. As a result of its emphasis on farming, the Tractors and Agricultural Machinery Manufacturing industry accounts for a large share of total manufacturing employment within the province. In total, Saskatchewan’s production of farming equipment accounts for nearly one-third of total industry revenue. Major contributors to the province’s influence within the industry includes Deere and Company, a large manufacturer of agricultural, construction and forestry machinery, which runs one of its parts distribution centres out of Saskatchewan.

Due to the province’s arable land and vast southern prairies, the Meat, Beef and Poultry Processing industry also accounts for a notable amount of manufacturing employment. A large amount of cattle are typically raised on farms within this province; therefore, they are particularly prevalent among farming areas in southern Canada, where there is also a large amount of open land for cattle to roam. Lastly, the Truck, Trailer and Home Manufacturing industry (IBISWorld report 33621CA) also accounts for a substantial contribution to the province’s manufacturing base, partly to supply farmers with the trucks and trailers they require for harvesting and food transport.

PDF of Mapping Canada’s Top Manufacturing Industries

Canadian Manufacturing Infographic

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