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December 4, 2010

Buy Ontario shuts down innovation in health and medical businesses

Job growth and the big economic development resulting from these new work roles is now proven to come from the successful incubation of "small, entrepreneurial employees--not a few big companies." Even adjusting for variables such as tax or industry, Glaeser and Kerr, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, observe, "the relationship between small firms and job growth rate stands." 
In other words, industries with smaller firms and more start-ups had faster job growth than an industry without a cluster of start-ups.
Our government has introduced a program called “Ontario Buys” for all institutions it supports, such as schools and hospitals. Ontario Buys is encouraging institutions to buy in bulk as a means to save money. Quite simply put, purchasing from fewer suppliers is the Walmart model of “buy in bulk and save”.  
At first sweep, it does seem sensible to buy from fewer suppliers  and save money by simplifying processes and consolidating costs of doing business.
 Unfortunately, this well-meaning government program is killing long term, future innovation since large numbers of smaller Canadian companies are being shut out simply by not having the size or product breadth for this bulk game. As Glaeser and Kerr’s research show, small companies lead to big companies.  
It is alarming that the Government buys from big suppliers as it is already crushing small companies. Then, where will be future innovation or competition. Maybe another question to get more of a response would be the shrinkage in government jobs for those experts trying o help business owners.
As an example of how the Ontario Buys program works, a medical device manufacturer who is under $40M in revenues is refused even an appointment with the several buying groups tasked with following this new initiative for the health care industry because of their small size. The bulk of orders go to large corporations. 
You may think: Wonderful, these large corporations produce Canadian jobs through their Canadian offices, but they are actually American multi-national corporations with subsidiaries that have been set up in Canada. They do create jobs, but profits are more than likely invoiced back to the American Parent as management fees to avoid our higher Canadian Tax Rates. The goods are imported into Canada from American manufacturing parent corporations, avoiding any manufacturing in Canada. We therefore do not get the benefit of manufacturing or higher paying jobs.  If you ask health care industry people about the Buy Ontario program, they approve because, generally, they are working for these large companies.
This same medical device supplier is peppered with calls from government experts offering all manner of programs to help the business, from R&D tax breaks or government experts to build better online catalogues, and so on. But if there is no buyer, these government initiatives will be of limited use.
Ironically, the US has implemented a minority owned mandate under the Federal Initiative “Minority Owned Contract Opportunities” which forces buying groups to ensure that a percentage of the products purchased are purchased from Minority Corporations, inclusive of SME companies.  
Canadian politicians should take into account the research by Glaeser and Kerr showing that a gnat like cloud of small companies buzzing around larger companies will be a far better boost to job growth than incentives for large companies. Our politicians need to be doing a lot more to protect our future by mandating that a small percentage of purchases be from SME Canadian businesses in conjunction with the Ontario Buys initiative. The percentage could be small but it would ensure a fair and open process at the table for all Canadian Manufacturers.
I will end here but I do get frustrated hearing about R&D grants or financing being given. That is not the problem - it is the buying end. Why give all our support to US owned companies who have a branch office or corporation in Canada, but shut out our SME’s who truly are our Canadian future.
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