Niche of excellence: a series of interrelated economic activities in which a region plans to position itself competitively in relation to other regions and on international markets, on the basis of skills specific to it. There are four types of niches:
• Leader: a niche in which a region can be a North American or world leader
• Partner: a niche in which a region can be a key partner of one or more regions with complementary assets
• Emerging: : a niche with strong growth potential in which a region believes it can ultimately become a leader
• Under evaluation: a niche in which a region hopes to subsequently assess the actual growth potential worldwide
The ACCORD regional committee identified niches of excellence characterizing the Bas–Saint-Laurent region, on the basis of the studies and analyses conducted there. These niches are as follows:
Development of peat and agroenvironmental technologies
The peat industry is experiencing unprecedented growth.
There are some 20 businesses in this niche in the Bas–Saint-Laurent region, including Premier Tech, Groupe Berger and Tourbières Lambert, which are a driving force in the region. Knowledge and technology transfer centres associated with these businesses, or set up in them, contribute to constant stimulation of innovation.
The Bas–Saint-Laurent region is the top-ranking peat-producing region, representing 45% of Québec's production. Businesses export over 85% of their products to foreign markets, generate sales of more than $243 million and account for over 1200 jobs in the region.
Over the years, the change in the traditional approach to harvesting peat has led to the development of bioindustries. Below are rapidly expanding fields of application:
- Crop protection and fertilization
- Use of biofilters in various liquid treatment systems
- Management and treatment of livestock wastewater
- Soil protection
- Elimination or reduction of heavy metals
- Management of contaminated sites
Due to environmental laws regarding decentralized wastewater treatment in North America and urban periphery residential and agrifood sectors, the agroenvironmental technology cluster, as it applies to peat development, can be expected to grow considerably.
All success factors needed to make the Bas–Saint-Laurent region a leader in this niche are in place:
- Availability of plant biomass
- Presence of leading businesses
- Innovation capability
- Substantial pool of private-sector researchers
- Development of a range of diversified products
- A rapidly expanding international market, especially in the United States, Asia and even Africa
- A desire to protect the environment and promote sustainable development
The Bas–Saint-Laurent region's industry for the development of peat and agroenvironmental technologies has set itself the goal of becoming, by 2015, the acknowledged leader in its field on international markets in terms of sustainable resource management, innovative technology, diversified products and environmental friendliness.
Marine resources, sciences and technologies
The Bas–Saint-Laurent region plays the role of co-leader, along with the Côte-Nord and Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine regions, in ensuring the advantageous position of this niche of excellence in North America and the world.
The “Plein cap sur la mer” strategy, adopted in 2001 by the Québec government, underpins the synergy and network approach at the heart of building this niche, which brings together four complementary, interdependent clusters:
- Marine biotechnologies
- Marine technologies
- Processing of seafood products
The niche relies on the strengths of each of the regions:
- Research and technology transfer infrastructures
- Availability and quality of human resources
- Training institutions
- Regulatory and tax benefits
- The as yet unsuspected treasure trove in the cold waters of the St. Lawrence River , St. Lawrence estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence
Marine biotechnologies and marine technologies are the most promising clusters. The presence of roughly 600 people in some ten research and technology transfer centres constitutes a critical mass and powerful base for their development.
The marine biotechnology cluster uses molecules extracted from fish, crustaceans and algae from the St. Lawrence to manufacture pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals. World demand for products and services derived from marine biotechnologies will rise from US$2.2 billion in 2001 to US$3.2 billion in 2007.
The marine technology cluster comprises the following segments:
- Maritime information technologies and services (most developed segment in the Bas–Saint-Laurent region)
- Maritime transport (shipbuilding and repair, naval architecture)
- Intelligent transportation systems
- Marine environment
- Exploration and development
- Underwater work
- Marine geomatics
All of these segments have vast fields of application, such as:
- Maritime navigation and communication systems
- Data acquisition and management systems, maritime cartography systems and geomatics applications
- Integration of information technology systems and other computer applications
- Port development and management
- Maritime transport management
- Fisheries production and exploitation
- Security and safety
- Environmental protection
- Oil industry
- Marine biotechnologies
- Renewable energy
- Underwater cables and telecommunications
The marine technology cluster has been the main engine of growth of Canada 's maritime industry in the past 10 years. Maritime information technologies and services represented $12.8 billion on the world market in 1999, and about 5% average annual growth is anticipated in the coming years.
Aquaculture and seafood product processing, supported by the fishing industry and the shipbuilding and repair industry, constitute a solid basis for positioning the niche.
Marine biotechnologies — particularly the extraction of biomolecules and the development of their use — have definite potential, as do the design and manufacture of fishing gear, aquaculture equipment and production technologies.
Fishing, aquaculture, seafood product processing and biotechnologies are currently the predominant niche clusters and the ones with the most development potential
Québec's three maritime regions are solidarily committed to developing a niche of excellence centred on a common resource. That solidarity is rooted in the strengths of each of the regions and reflected in the will of all players to deploy both the components and the benefits of the production system throughout maritime Québec.
The great challenge is to turn to advantage this cold-water resource and the related know-how, as well as the knowledge of the St. Lawrence River , a unique watercourse. All of these factors, coupled with innovation, will create promising economic activity for maritime Québec inhabitants.
Transportation equipment and metal products
These two, combined areas of activity have excellent development potential in the Bas–Saint-Laurent region.
The presence of prime contractors is a catalyst for the development of this niche.
For example, Bombardier Transport, a world-class company with more than 1100 employees, is specialized in railway production and exports primarily to the United States.
This niche comprises over 30 so-called strategic businesses employing 2200 people and generating approximately $342 million in sales, 68% of which is derived from exports. Overall, these businesses make roughly 70% of their $130 million in purchases in Québec.
The main activities of the niche are as follows:
- Production of railroad equipment
- Manufacture of iron or steel alloy castings
- Manufacture of peatbog equipment and palletizers
- Manufacture of cast aluminum parts
- Manufacture of hydraulic presses and cylinders, and crushing cones
The region is advantageously positioned in this niche for the following reasons:
- Presence of a world-class company—Bombardier Transport
- Strong growth in the demand for light rail vehicles, subway cars, commuter trains and intercity trains
- Presence of businesses and entrepreneurs with strong innovation capability
- Presence of a network of quality training institutions
- Potential for developing new markets for, and diversifying the production of, businesses in this cluster
Housing and construction
This niche occupies a preponderant place in the economy of the Bas–Saint-Laurent region.
With more than 200 businesses generating over 5200 direct jobs, it ranks first among the region's manufacturing activities. The businesses and organizations in this niche offer a wide range of products and services, including:
- Lumber (softwood and hardwood), treated wood, torrified wood, hardwood flooring, mouldings, kitchen cabinets, doors and windows, structural elements, prefabricated houses, architectural glass, clay, furniture and furnishings, as well as architectural and engineering firms.
This niche has an elaborate production system and good potential for the following reasons:
- Well-established major industrial base that is both innovative and diversified
- Proximity of major export target markets, which several businesses have already penetrated
- Availability of raw materials in the region (wood and clay)
- Regional expertise in the wood sector (skilled labour force)
- Presence of a research unit in the wood sector (SEREX)
- Presence of a regional network for developing secondary and tertiary processing of wood products, including strategic and commercial watch activities
- Specialized training programs in the wood products processing sector and related disciplines (Université du Québec à Rimouski and cegep).