Power people of Eastern Ontario's manufacturing sector

A great economic driver

The manufacturing sector is one of the greatest drivers of all western economies. In Ontario at large, for example, it contributes 12 per cent of GDP — with only real estate, rental and leasing ahead, and only by one percentage point.

In Eastern Ontario, there are players that are on the leading edge in manufacturing sophistication and innovation. There are smaller players as well — not always relying on vanguard technology, but highly innovative and creative in their execution of product design and function, who are finding the world their oyster as they search for markets.

More than 47,500 people are working in the manufacturing sector in Eastern Ontario, and the 12 post-secondary institutions in the region have more than 15,300 students enrolled in engineering, mathematics and science disciplines, as well as in applied skills programs for trades and technology. A new cohort of manufacturing workers is rising.

Sahiza Hossenbaccus

general manager of SnapCab

Sahiza Hossenbaccus has crossed wide divides of culture and geography to become an important player in the world of manufacturing in Eastern Ontario.

SahizaHossenbaccus is the general manager and CFO of SnapCab, a Kingston-based company that produces a line of stand-alone office pods that provide private workplaces for offices, industrial workplaces and even the health-care sector.

Hossenbaccus was born in Mauritius, a small island nation off the east coast of Africa. Always seeking personal and professional growth, she pursued accounting studies in the United Kingdom before moving to Canada in 2002. Once here, she earned her CPA and MBA designations.

All this was brought to bear at SnapCab, which provided her with “the ideal platform to participate in the scaling up of the business.”

Hossenbaccus regards the company’s response to the COVID pandemic as one of its greatest achievements during her tenure. “We pivoted from meeting room pods to stand-alone offices,” which helped with social distancing. The company, in concert with the Kingston medical community, also developed the “SnapCab Care” — a mobile exam room that allows medical workers to test patients at a local COVID-19 assessment centre.

Guy Robichaud

founder of Laminacorr

For Guy Robichaud, founding Laminacorr, one of the largest independent corrugated plastic products manufacturers in North America, brought to fruition a lifelong dream. Robichaud

In his late 20s, Robichaud trained as an industrial engineering technician and was working his way up the ladder at a large corrugated plastics manufacturer, but feeling dissatisfied. He had always wanted to run his own business and be his own boss. Though it was difficult, he and his wife raised the initial funds on their own. In 1998, they founded Laminacorr Industries, currently located in the Cornwall Business Park. 

There have been bumps in the road. The company faced potential ruin in 2008 when the financial crisis devastated sales and amplified the weight of company debt. For two years, it was touch and go. But there’s been a remarkable uptick in the company’s fortunes and sales have doubled in the last five years.

Robichaud’s remaining ambition, now that he’s on a roll, is to acquire a company in the United States. He and his wife “hope to leave a successful company to our daughters.”

Dan Mellen

general manager of KI Canada

In his 12 years as general manager of KI Canada in Pembroke, the world’s sixth largest producer of office furniture, Dan Mellen has worked to improve plant operations from all perspectives. His biggest accomplishments, shared with staff, are remarkable improvements in manufacturing efficiency (nudged up from 70 per cent to the high 90s), improved quality control and a safety record that now sees the company get an annual rebate from its insurer. In recent years, KI Canada, more often than not, has been chosen as plant of the year within the KI Corporation, which also operates several factories in the United States and is headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mellen

Mellen’s management philosophy explains the accomplishment: “If you can truly focus on common goals and aspirations, the possibilities are endless. Establishing a common bond and developing trust is paramount to success.”

Mellen acquired his management chops through working with a range of manufacturing companies in Ontario and Saskatchewan. Along the way, always wanting to boost his communicative reach, he acquired a conversational command of Japanese and Spanish.

Yves Rochon

director of operations at Magellan Aerospace

Yves Rochon has worked for 37 years at the Magellan Aerospace site at Haley Station, where, for the past seven years, he has been director of operations. He graduated from Algonquin College in 1984 as a mechanical engineering technologist and was soon working at Magellan. Yves

He has had many roles at the company, including quality technologist, technical sales representative, planning manager and production manager. “This variety of roles has enabled me to become a very well-rounded business manager,” he says. One of his main responsibilities is to ensure that the plant remains at the forefront of evolving technology. As far back as 10 years ago, Magellan was incorporating 3D printing into its production process. Its parts are in the most sophisticated aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F-35. A major challenge going forward will be continued adaptation to leading edge technologies, including 3D printing of metals, which Rochon says could completely revolutionize half the processes used in the plant.

Joe Olenick

general manager of Ivaco Rolling Mills 

Joe Olenick of Ivaco Rolling Mills in L’Orignal has steel-working in his blood. He’s a “third-generation steel worker” who began working as a mechanical engineer in a steel plant outside Pittsburgh 46 years ago. His career path took him through two other plants, in increasingly responsible management roles, until Ivaco recruited him in 2000. Something must have worked because Ivaco, with annual production of close to a million tons, is an industry leader in the production of hot-rolled wire rod of a quality Olenick says is unsurpassed in North America. Joe

The company’s biggest achievement during his tenure has been the upgrade of the steel plant itself, completed in 2016. New equipment and processes ensured significant reduction in pollutants and noise as well as lower cost of production. The energy saved each year could provide power for 26,000 homes. 

The company strives to be “a good corporate citizen,” Olenick says. This is seen not only in emission reductions, but even in the colour the company chose for the exterior of the plant — “a nice blue, like water, to give a tranquil look.”

His philosophy is to seek excellence in everything. “My father used to say, ‘If you’re doing it, do it well enough so you would put your name on it‘.”

Cynthia Seguin

general manager of Alexandria Moulding

In her 20 years at Alexandria Moulding, the last five as general manager for Canada, Cynthia Seguin has seen great growth in the company, which is the largest manufacturer of solid wood and composite mouldings in Canada, and has significant operations in the United States.  In her student days, Seguin had no thought of working for a wood plant. Her training was in chemical engineering. Her early years in the company were mostly in quality control, not management. “But this company provides an abundance of opportunities,” she says. Seguin

As general manager, Seguin has been able to lead a significant expansion project in the Alexandria plant even during the pandemic. “Throughout this difficult period, we dismantled a good section of the plant and ‘remantled’ it with new equipment, sometimes with assistance from technicians in Italy instructing us over Zoom,” she recalls. The company has launched new products and streamlined manufacturing processes. But Seguin counts one of her major achievements as simply keeping the plant open and productive during a time of frightening health risk. “All the employees were giving, and motivated, and making their best contributions.”

Todd Stafford

president of Northern Cables 

As Northern Cables celebrates its 25th year of operation this year, president Todd Stafford can look back with satisfaction on a quarter century of business growth. The company’s biggest accomplishment is “going from zero to 216 employees and three factories in 25 years.” Stafford

The company’s six principals had worked previously for BICC Phillips Cables, which closed its Brockville plant in 1996. At Phillips, Stafford worked as a unit manager and process engineer. When the six decided to create Northern Cables, they were starting truly from scratch, with no plant, no machinery and no customers — three downsides that were not totally daunting because, as Stafford says, “You can’t do anything in this world without power.”

Today, the company operates around the clock, manufacturing four million metres of armoured cable each month for industrial and commercial customers.

It’s been quite an ascent for a man who, four decades ago, was working as an electrician in Saskatchewan.

The company remains on a strong upward trajectory. Besides introducing new products, it plans to expand aggressively with the addition of a fourth facility in a couple of years.