OTTAWA – The furniture industry should be a big part of the federal government’s promised strategy to grow this country’s manufacturing sector as it is not only still here a decade after the great recession but it remains a vibrant and innovative source of jobs, taxes and international trade. That’s the message Pierre Richard and Rejean Poitras took to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in a recent appearance before it.
In fact, it may have been the first time industry representatives had ever given in-person testimony before a parliamentary committee – at least in the modern era. The committee, which is currently studying the manufacturing sector to develop recommendations for the federal government’s promised industrial strategy, is made up of M.P.s from all three parties in the House.
Richard, president and chief executive officer of both the Quebec Furniture Manufacturers Association (QFMA) and the Canadian Furniture Show (CFS), told Home Goods Online it was vitally important to do more than just submit a brief to the committee. “I wanted to raise the profile of the industry,” he said. “I wanted to let them know we still exist. They needed to know the industry is vibrant and makes great contributions to the health of the country’s economy.”
Also taking part in the presentation, which lasted almost two hours, was Rejean Poitras, who is vice chairman of the QFMA’s board of directors and president of metal furniture specialist Amisco.
In the brief, Richard reminded the assembled M.P.s that Canada is the world’s eighth-largest furniture producer that currently employs some 63,300 workers, making it the second largest consumer products industry in Canada – after food processing. In fact, it employs almost the same number of workers as does the aerospace industry and about 25% of the total number employed by the auto sector.
One of the industry’s main challenges at this point in time is recruiting qualified people to work in furniture manufacturing. “We are growing and we are creating jobs,” he said, adding its filling those jobs that’s proving difficult.
Aiding the industry to create awareness of the career potential it offers is one of the recommendations the association made, urging the government to offer financial support in the form of scholarships and tax credits to students choosing to work in the furniture.
The association’s other recommendations to the committee included:
- Enhancing and ensuring accessibility of assistance programs for research and development to promote both manufacturing innovation and new product development as well as improving the industry’s competitiveness;
- Provide advice and support to manufacturers wanting to provide effective e-commerce platforms, particularly from both a strategic and technological viewpoint (creating and optimising web sites, marketing, customer service, etc.) while providing financial support to train employees tasked with developing online sales;
- Introduce tax relief measures on the benefits derived from e-commerce for manufacturers getting into it for the first time – such as tax breaks for the first three years, for example, followed by imposing lower taxes over a set time frame.
- Ensure the implementation of new consumer product safety measures is done in collaboration with the industry, with a gradual implementation scale over a reasonable time frame and easily adopted transitional measures;
- Devise a furniture export strategy that uses existing Canadian and American trade shows (office and residential furniture) to attract major buyers from across North America by providing financial support to take part in these shows; and,
- Conduct major promotional activities, such as ‘reverse’ trade missions where key buyers are invited to Canada to visit the Canadian furniture facilities (factories, stores, etc.).
While Richard doesn’t know how much of the association’s advice the committee will take, he believes the M.P.s who listened to his testimony now know the industry is here and is capable of making even greater contributions to the overall Canadian economy.
“They know we need assistance to grow,” he said. “They also know we bring money into the country when we sell to others. They also know this is a dynamic, innovative industry that’s worthy of their attention.”
The government is supported to unveil its new manufacturing strategy sometime next year.