21:52 PM

More college research will stimulate economic growth - In the News

Mohawk College Presdent Ron McKerlie recently authored an opinion article about the important role applied research in colleges can play a significant role in Ontario's growth. Below is the content of that op-ed, as published in The Hamilton Spectator on August 18, 2020. 

More college research will stimulate economic growth

By Ron McKerlie

The recently announced provincial action plan to commercialize academic research has the potential to provide a great boost to Ontario’s economy.

Certainly, it has become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic the province should do more to promote the domestic creation and production of goods. Commercializing more of the great research in Ontario can help make that happen.

It will be particularly important to bolster the full range of research possibilities across the province.

Not surprisingly, when we think of research, we tend to think of the lab work that leads to the next big discovery. To pick the most obvious example, the world is focused on the race to develop an effective vaccine to contain COVID-19.

While the significance of such a breakthrough can’t be understated, the world of research actually goes well beyond such headline-grabbing discoveries.

Many of our most important innovations occur in smaller companies, where new products or efficiencies can stimulate economic growth and create more jobs.

Unfortunately, Ontario has always lagged behind other jurisdictions when it comes to such research. Currently, only three per cent of Ontario businesses perform any research.

In a recently released white paper on the future of Ontario’s workforce, the StrategyCorp Institute of Public Policy and Economy said the potential in this area is vastly underutilized. It said the government often overlooks the opportunities to develop distributable innovations that can be commercialized.

The government’s expert panel on intellectual property, chaired by former Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie, also said there are opportunities that are being missed. In its February report, the panel said, “colleges offer interesting pathways to commercialization that are currently underdeveloped.”

The research shortfall is particularly acute in the province’s smaller businesses. Although small and medium-sized businesses make up most of the economy, many of those businesses don’t have the resources or expertise to conduct their own research.

This is where colleges can make a real difference.

Throughout the country, colleges are collaborating with businesses on real-world research that produces tangible results with measurable economic benefits.

At Mohawk College, our IDEAWORKS hub of applied research and innovation delivers customized support to businesses in a wide range of areas. This includes everything from the use of drones in commercial and industrial applications to revolutionary technology in manufacturing and energy efficiency improvements that promote a low-carbon economy.

Our research recently helped a local manufacturer develop technology for the trucking industry using embedded wireless sensors to monitor a truck’s blind spots and notify the driver of potential collision risks. The resulting product is being sold as the first of its kind in North America using Internet of Things technology to reduce road accidents involving commercial trucks.

Ontario needs to escalate its commitment to developing homegrown products and services.

Our sector has recommended the government create college-based industry-specific innovation centres across the province to facilitate more opportunities for businesses to engage in market-specific applied research projects with us.

We look forward to collaborating with the government and employers on the new commercialization action plan. With the right investments and a targeted focus on research that helps small businesses innovate, Ontario can become a world leader in the creation, commercialization and success of Ontario-made products.