A seascape in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean: Bonds of metal

A half-century of achievements

For more than 50 years, the Government of Canada has been actively participating in regional economic development in Quebec. And for more than 20 years, it has been contributing to business growth and regional vitality as CED. To highlight this milestone, CED published regional profiles that underscore its role as a catalyst for regional development over the decades. 

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Inside a factory in Alma.Alma's extrusion transfer centre.
Source : Centre d’entrepreneuriat et d’essaimage, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi

For almost 100 years, aluminum production has been one of the main economic drivers in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. This industry has made Canada a global leader in aluminum production. In the face of the challenges brought about by globalization, both in terms of production and foreign processing, and given the specific needs of some SMEs, it is now more important than ever to explore new avenues with respect to aluminum development and processing.

The federal government has been contributing to the economic development of the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region for over 40 years. In 1978, the Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE)—which could be considered as the precursor of Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED)—opened one of the first regional business offices in Quebec, in Alma. Since then, through the various available programs, the CED team at the Alma office has been working with the various aluminum sector stakeholders to leverage the region’s strengths and the opportunities that may arise.

Developing sectoral synergy

A factory worker taking inventory.One of the first major initiatives stemming from this co-operation involved developing a profile of the innovative technologies and processes that use aluminum, along with their applications and marketing. At the same time, a number of SMEs, both in the region and across Quebec, were looking for solutions to the need for aluminum equipment and products that were hard to find, either because they were produced in limited quantities, had an overly refined application or were highly specialized. It became clear that synergies needed to be created to match expertise, know-how and this demand.

In 1999, to showcase the region at the local, national and international levels, CED played a leading role in the creation of the Réseau Trans-Al, a group of players in the aluminum sector who understood the need to band together around their common cause.

A technology roadmap to better support the industry

To maximize the effectiveness of these ties among its members, the Réseau Trans-Al developed a technology roadmap (TRM) for all sectors that use aluminum, as well as for other sectors where the potential use of aluminum could be developed. Going beyond the simple supply chain, the TRM allows for the matching of research and development in technological advances leading to the design of highly specialized aluminum products that meet the specific needs of its clients. The TRM is also a strategic tool that provides information about trends and issues in the aluminum sector.

“Businesses involved in secondary and tertiary aluminum processing, as well as OEMs in this sector, play a key role in regional economic growth. There are, however, challenges that need to be addressed if this sector is to expand, develop new products and capture a greater market share. We are proud of this financial contribution aimed at improving the innovative capacity of SMEs,” explains Stéphane Bergeron, Director of CED’s Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean Business Office.

Bringing together knowledge, diversity and drive

A researcher wearing a lab coat and glasses adjusting a device.As a result of the implementation of the Roadmap, which was supported by CED, the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region is now known around the world as an incubator of expertise and innovation in the aluminum sector. Over the years, other groups and organizations have emerged and have strengthened networking in the sector. For example, every three years, the Société de la Vallée de l’aluminium (SVA) organizes an international congress in the region. Also, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) set up the Aluminum Technology Centre (ATC). Located on the campus of the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC), it provides state-of-the-art R&D infrastructure.

“CED’s financial and human support for the Réseau Trans-Al over the past 20 years has had a significant impact on SMEs involved in aluminum processing,” notes Pauline Cadieux, Director General of Réseau Trans-Al. “CED’s assistance has allowed us to contribute to the growth of businesses and to support innovative SMEs.”

Clearly, CED’s role, both as a facilitator and a team builder in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, has produced profoundly transformative results in the region.

Did you know?
  • The aluminum industry accounts for 30,000 direct jobs in Quebec, almost 10,000 of which are in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region                
  • Quebec has the most highly developed aluminum supply chain in Canada, made up of over 1,400 manufacturers and suppliers in 13 industrial sectors that process or assemble the grey metal            
  • 32% of Canada’s aluminum comes from plants in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, and Quebec smelters produce almost 60% of North American aluminum.              
  • There are over 350 researchers and engineers involved in the field of aluminum and aluminum processing in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region.

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