Frequently Asked Questions
The Bluewater Wood Alliance defines itself as a woodworking cluster organization. What does that mean?
According to Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, “A cluster is a geographically proximate group of companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities.“ In the case of the Bluewater Alliance, centred in South Western Ontario in the wood products manufacturing industry, the cluster has been there for many decades. It is comprised, in Grey and Bruce counties alone, of about 85 companies and has significant employment numbers. What is different now is that the cluster organization, the Bluewater Wood Alliance Inc. has been put in place to provide a structure to the cluster in order to get things done.
Why do clusters exist?
It’s natural. Industries tend to cluster in an area. Companies grow, split and create new opportunities to build new businesses in the same area. The positive part of formalizing and organizing in a cluster is that there are certain benefits:
• Easy access to specialized training, services and workers
• The building of trust, resulting in information availability and sharing
• Ability to be flexible and adapt quickly to change due to wood specialization in the area
• Imitation facilitates faster innovation adoption
• Innovation fosters increased competitiveness for all members
All in all, working and sharing information within a cluster organization allows small and medium sized companies to compete globally thanks to better access to information and specialized resources, flexibility and rapid adoption of innovations. In short, there is strength in numbers.
How is this cluster run?
The Bluewater Wood Alliance Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation that will coordinate and facilitate the strategies of the cluster. Decisions on direction and projects come from the bottom up, as this is a truly member-driven organization. The Alliance is supported and funded by a combination of membership fees plus federal, provincial and regional/municipal funding. The cluster organization serves as an intermediary between government and the cluster, articulating the cluster’s needs and seeking funding to drive those needs forward. It also serves as a catalyst between and among the member firms, seeking consensus and articulating what the needs of the cluster really are, then organizing the means to have those needs satisfied.
What kind of programs will there be?
1. Website and intranet: All members who have websites will have a link on the www.bluewaterwoodalliance.com website. There will also be an intranet established to allow members to talk to each other and to access information on collaboration projects, programs and training sessions.
2. Experience exchange workshops: These have already been started in best practices for research and development funding, purchasing materials/services, energy and waste management. Members will continue to be polled to find projects that are specific to a number of members, so those members can share information on what works.
3. Training and skills development: working with the community colleges, high schools in the region and independent providers, the Alliance will set up a program of training and skills development programs for upgrading plant workers and pre-training new hires. Training is a key to both safety and productivity. It will be a key element in the Alliance. The benefit to members will be in the ability to place workers into higher quality training programs at lower cost than if they try to do it on their own.
4. Networking meetings: During the year, a number of networking meetings will be organized in a central location to allow members to get together to enjoy the fellowship of their peers. The inevitable side benefit is the opportunity that members will have to discuss issues of mutual interest in a low key, non-competitive milieu.
5. Technology transfer: Another key to being competitive, both locally and in global markets, is the ability to learn about and adopt new technologies as they become available. The Alliance is committed to monitoring and passing on the technological advancements in wood processing and wood-related IT.
6. Government funding: The cluster has been formed to give members access to information on what government funding is available and how to go about applying for it. The job of the Alliance will be to support the members through the process.
7. Export development: By establishing the Bluewater Wood Alliance brand and promoting that brand and the products of its members around the world through trade show participation and the internet, there is an opportunity for each member company to participate in export development initiatives that build business. Government departments have programs to promote export sales and are quite willing to fund trade missions and trade show participation for well organized groups of companies. The Alliance will work to find export opportunities and exploit them for the betterment of the members.
Who is in the Alliance now?
The founding member companies are all small and medium sized companies from the Grey and Bruce regions. New members are being brought in from all facets of the industry –furniture, cabinets, millwork, window and door and so on. If you work with wood, you are welcome as a member of the Bluewater Wood Alliance.
What does it cost?
The cost to join in the first year is as follows:
• Up to 10 employees $ 500
• 11-75 employees $1,000
• Over 75 employees $1,500
As one member said, after sitting in on a seminar on research and development funding, “If you don’t get $10,000 worth of value in the first year, you’re not trying.”
How do I join?
Just fill out and return the attached application form to Mike Baker at the email below. Alternatively call Mike on 1-226-668-5455.