The winner of the 2018 Community Builders Award for Economic Development is passionate about his community and the people who live here.
“I am not interested in (just) making products. I am interested in helping to start companies by building competence and confidence in young people,” says Tom Fortin, the owner of Ontrak Control Systems.
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching,” Mahatma Gandhi said.
Fortin walks the talk buying locally and sourcing suppliers of Canadian-made products even if he can get them cheaper from China. He has invested in developing local innovation and encourages young people to “work for themselves and not the man.” He has pushed back against issues he believes are not good for the city, and he supports not-for-profit economic development programs such as Eat Local Sudbury.
“Everything we create ourselves is what defines us,” he says. “I really believe entrepreneurship is the way forward for us. The mining industry should not be our only hope for prosperity. There are opportunities in manufacturing provided we can build local competencies and encourage collaboration.”
Ontrak Control Systems develops and manufactures computer peripheral hardware with medical, retail or automation applications. The company Fortin started in his basement after graduating from Electronic Engineering Technology at Cambrian College has customers around the world. About 50 percent of its sales are in the United States.
In 1995, as use of the internet exploded, Ontrak began to attract international business with its website, and eventually opened a product development centre in 2000. Two years later, a CSA testing centre was added.
The company won a Northern Ontario Business Award in 2002, and the next year Ontrak was voted the Most Innovative Company of the Year by Microchip Technology Inc.
“Ontrak Control Systems is a hidden gem in our local and national business landscape,” says Michael Dolinar, CEO of AdvanceWorx. “(The company) creates high skill jobs in Sudbury, designs state-of-the art tech products and contributes to Canada’s international reputation as a tech innovator.”
Fortin’s passion built the Fortin Discovery Lab at Northern Ontario Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) to help young engineers and technologists develop ideas and to encourage them to become entrepreneurs who contribute to economic growth and create jobs.
The Discovery Lab, opened in 2014, is part of NORCAT’s Innovation Mill, which supports entrepreneurs with mentors, education, research, a commons and office space.
The Fortin Foundation, Fortin’s philanthropic venture, has committed $250,000 to the lab, with another $25,000 annually for six years. FedNor contributed $400,000 to set up the space.
Discovery Lab’s success stories include the Owens Corning Comfort Tracker, a mobile application for conducting simple and accurate insulation home audits by utilization of the FLIR One Thermal Camera. The app diagnoses possible problems with the current insulation and recommends products and solutions.
“We used to make a lot of things in this country. We used to be a manufacturing powerhouse. Over the years, most of the manufacturing moved to Asia. I see a lot of opportunity to start making things again,” says Fortin.
“We are trying to bring back the critical mass of skills that we need to have manufacturing. The idea of the lab is not about producing products; it is about producing people (and) building competence and confidence.”
He has plans to start an association of small manufacturers in the city that could share costs of equipment and expertise.
“There are a lot of small manufacturers here. Sudbury has so much going for it that nobody knows about. Let’s start talking to each other.”