As supply chain issues become paramount for companies world-wide, the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation (LCIC) is driving a regional initiative to ensure a comeback from the economic slowdown and greater resiliency of supply chain networks in the future.
Efficient supply chain management is essential to a company’s success and customer satisfaction. The process starts with the harvesting of raw materials such as crops, timber, minerals, or other natural resources and extends through the flow of production to the sale of products to customers.
The LCIC supports economic development in the rural communities of Trail, Fruitvale, Montrose, Rossland and Warfield (aka the “Lower Columbia”). In 2021, it conducted a small-scale project to explore supply chain challenges and opportunities in the Lower Columbia region. The project collected hard supply chain data around inputs, outputs, by-products and waste streams within the forestry and metallurgical sectors. The primary goal was to achieve a better understanding of the value chain in the Lower Columbia and where improvements could be made. The second goal was to identify gaps in the value chain which would provide Metal Tech Alley – LCIC’s investment attraction initiative – with opportunities to promote the region as a good place to invest.
Initial Research Leads to Larger Study
“We could see from that first project how interconnected Kootenay communities are and the importance of a regional approach to supply chain development,” says Rebecca Richards, LCIC Co-Director.
The Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI-BC) saw the value of a larger project with greater geographic scope to provide a deeper understanding of West Kootenay regional supply chains, including additional sectors. The initiative also aligns with the Trust’s strategic pillars of supporting business resilience and growth and building economic development capacity through regional partnerships. With grant funding from ETSI-BC, the LCIC partnered with Community Futures organizations in the Central Kootenay and Boundary regions, and Selkirk College to conduct the large-scale project.
The funding enabled the hiring of research consultant, Jaspreet Kaur of Fly High Consulting to interview another 19 companies about their supply chain issues and needs. In the second phase of the project, consultants from Blue Monarch Management were engaged to assist interested companies in developing their supply chain strategies. “We were surprised at how few companies were interested in developing these strategies, so we redirected our efforts to address what we learned from the research,” says Richards.
Need for Skilled Workers and Entrepreneurial Training
Lack of skilled labor including workers with entrepreneurial skills was identified as a major barrier to economic growth. “There is a lack of training in the region that inspires potential entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and prepares them to work through issues that impede business growth including supply chain management,” adds Richards.
To address this, the LCIC and the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) are working together to create an “Entrepreneurial Training for Youth” course intended to run in 2023. In addition, KAST is working with both Selkirk College and College of the Rockies on a regional entrepreneurship initiative that addresses gaps and complements existing programs in the three organizations.
The research also showed that Kootenay businesses struggle to find carriers, especially when they have less than full truckloads of goods.
“There may be an opportunity for a tool called a load board which helps shippers make available loads in the Kootenays more visible,” explains Richards. Load boards are an online platform to match shippers with carriers. Using a load board can also help a company improve their logistics and procurement planning as relationships with carriers are established and data on shipping success is captured. Currently, the LCIC is bringing together a group of Kootenay based shippers to trial a load board for six months.
“It is more important than ever to evaluate and understand supply chain activities,” says Laurel Douglas, CEO of ETSI-BC. “This project is demonstrating the value of strategic partnerships in tackling a major economic development issue and working directly with industry to achieve meaningful change.”