By Brian Dunn

The Logistics and Transportation Cluster of Metropolitan Montreal, Cargo Montreal (CargoM) is one of few clusters in Canada that incorporates maritime cargo, rail, trucking, air, and logistics, according to Mathieu Charbonneau, CargoM’s Executive Director. In 2006, the Ministère des Finances et de l’Économie (MFE) released a study that estimated the transportation sector was responsible for 100,000 jobs in Quebec, according to Mr. Charbonneau.

“I visited Port of Antwerp and the Flanders Institute for Logistics (FIL) in September to see what they’re doing in Europe. I noticed that rail transport for cargo was not as strong as I had expected in France and Belgium, compared to rail’s importance as a transportation system of people.”

With over 300 members, FIL is a Flemish non-profit organization founded in 2003 by the Flemish government. FIL supports and enhances the competitiveness of Flanders-based companies in implementing innovative logistics projects. The Institute works closely with big and small players from the logistics sector including shippers and third-party logistics providers. FIL also supports the initiatives of the Flanders in Action Pact to make Flanders one of the five most affluent and socially responsible areas of Europe by 2020, with logistics being one of the major focus areas since logistics accounts for more than 200,000 jobs in Flanders.

Mr. Charbonneau was part of a mission from Montreal that witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Port of Montreal and Port of Antwerp with the objective to increase traffic between the two ports and to optimize their activities through the exchange of best practices. While in Europe, Mr. Charbonneau visited Le Havre to witness the efficient movement of cargo in and around the port through its Port Community System which links communications between all parties in the logistics chain. “It’s something we want to do here next year through a pilot project, and the working group for the project has already been established,” he said. CargoM is also being benchmarked against the ports of Savannah, Norfolk and New York.

The mission of CargoM is to group together all the stakeholders from the logistics and transportation sectors, whose operations make the Greater Montreal Area (GMA) a hub, to work on shared goals and take concerted action to boost competitiveness and extend its influence.

Officially launched last December, Mr. Charbonneau cited a number of initiatives CargoM is undertaking through its various transportation and logistics partners. “We’re working non-stop to make Montreal known as the merchandise transportation hub of North America. It’s the regional economy that will benefit,” he said.

CargoM’s annual operating budget is around $800,000 which is divided almost equally from membership fees, the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal which created six other industry clusters, the Quebec government, and the federal government whose grant is based on the group’s projects. “We have 33 members (from the rail, maritime, trucking and logistics sectors along with administrators, committees and education members) and we’ve just added three more – the St. Lawrence Ship Operators, École nationale d’aèrotechnique, part of Collège Ēdouard-Montpetit, and the Human Resources Sectorial Committee of the Maritime Industry, CSMO-Maritime.

“Our objective is to add members related to the projects we’re working on. What I’ve learned from other clusters is not to take on members who are not relevant to one’s activities. I think the maximum number of members we could have from the GMA that fit our profile is between 100 and 200.”

MFE is considering supporting the locating of a value-added logistics centre somewhere in the GMA, something the transport industry badly needs, according to Mr. Charbonneau. But he wants input to come from the private sector. “In Antwerp, the port is surrounded by industries that use the port. With the extension of Autoroute 30 (which allows truckers to bypass Montreal), a lot of companies now have an opportunity to expand their operations off island, if necessary. CargoM thinks the establishment of a large-scale strategic logistics cluster similar to Antwerp is a “value-added proposition that we’d like to see implemented in the GMA.”

While CargoM members from the maritime, rail and trucking industries are very active, a working committee has been created by CargoM and Aéroports de Montréal to try to get more input from the air freight side in the cluster.

Closing in on its first year of operations, CargoM’s major success is the high level of participation from all transport modes. But there are still a few wrinkles to iron out, Mr. Charbonneau noted. “We need time to integrate all four modes in one cluster with the objective of promoting the hub as a whole. We want everyone working as a team.”

The importance of the freight transportation industry is starting to be recognized by other organizations, noted Mr. Charbonneau, including the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, the International Chamber of Commerce and the International Economic Forum of the Americas which had a plenary session on transportation and logistics as part of its program in Montreal last June.

“What CargoM wants to do is target the private sector to create a critical mass of support, and to sensitize the government to our issues. One of the things we want to do next year is conduct a marketing campaign explaining the importance of the industry to the Montreal region, because all the public sees and hears is pollution, traffic and noise.” he added. “We want to point out the positive things the industry is doing for the environment, such as Transport Robert’s fleet of trucks using LNG. We also want trucks to be able to use bus lanes during off-peak hours like they do in Europe. That’s why we want the public to understand the issues.”

A seminar entitled “Opportunities for Sector Development” is scheduled for February with representatives from the ports of Norfolk, Savannah, New York and Antwerp invited to make presentations. “Although we’re competitors, we have to get past that and share our knowledge and experiences, but we may not all share our top secrets,” Mr. Charbonneau concluded.