There’s a pervasive sentiment the manufacturing sector in Canada is dying, if not already dead. Hardly a day goes by without a dispiriting headline about a plant closure or a production delay or the dismal state of our national competitiveness.

To those reports, we offer the following rejoinder: our ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Manufacturers. Nearly one in five firms that made the 2014 PROFIT 500 ranking are manufacturers—some 90 in all.

Every company on the list below has grown its sales significantly during a time of near-flat economic growth. Proof: the typical manufacturer on the 2014 PROFIT 500 increased its revenue by 509% over the past five years. For the Top 10, that average skyrockets to 2,618%. During that same period, they created 7,484 net new full-time jobs. Last year, their sales as a group topped $2.2 billion. And they’re bringing Brand Canada to the world: nearly 80% of Canada’s Top Manufacturers sell to export markets, and together they brought $1.4 billion in foreign business last year alone.

Each of these manufacturers serves as a thriving example of what it takes to succeed in a sector that’s seen plenty of challenges. Here are a few of the best business lessons from the country’s manufacturing elite:

The Top 10:

1. Life Science Nutritionals Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 5,525% (PROFIT 500 rank: 2)
Chief executive(s): Stuart Lowther
Full-time equivalent (FTE) employees: 82
Manufactures and distributes gummy-based vitamins

How to finance fast expansion: To keep up with its exponential growth, Life Science Nutritionals has spent millions in the last few to buy equipment and expand capacity. And the company has been smart about paying for it all. “We’ve used an operating line at the bank, we’ve re-invested profits and we got some government funding,” explains Lowther. “And lease financing on new equipment helped to expand our packaging lines.”

2. Kelso Technologies Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 4,490% (PROFIT 500 rank: 7)
Chief executive(s): James Bond
FTE employees: 40
Designs and produces railway service equipment, primarily for transport of hazardous goods

How to bounce back from bankruptcy: “This company was technically bankrupt in 2010, and when we came in we said we have no room for misadventure,” says Bond. “We knew we had to be reliable. Whatever your market is, you have to be reliable and you have to have integrity. It sounds generic, but the reality is that your customers want you to prove that you can deliver to their needs. We know we have to produce a reliable supply, and the product cannot fail. Knock on wood, we’ve been able to do that.”

3. Avigilon Corp.

Five-year revenue growth: 3,303% (PROFIT 500 rank: 13)
Chief executive(s): Alexander Fernandes
FTE employees: 458
Designs and manufactures surveillance equipment

How to prove your worth: “Our very first sale was the hardest,” says Fernandes. “Everybody wanted to know who else was using it, and why was no one else is using it, and were we going to be in business in two years to service it? We overcame all that by finding a customer who was willing to take a chance, and a customer that had such a big problem to solve that can’t be solved by anyone else’s product; one that had no choice but to take a chance on an unproven company with an unproven product. Even still, we had to do a lot to convince them that they were going to be successful with our product.”

4. Therapure Biopharma Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 2,405% (PROFIT 500 rank: 23)
Chief executive(s): Nick Green
FTE employees: 170
Develops and manufactures biopharmaceuticals

How to keep employees engaged: In the past year, Therapure has done two things that Green says have done wonders for morale and productivity. “First, we started the Six Sigma process, which is very much an empowering process, in my view,” he explains. “Second, we asked our employees ‘what we were getting wrong?’ It’s a different organization at 210 employees than it was at 60. At 60, I knew everybody’s first name and you spoke to them quite a lot. When you hit 210, it gets more difficult. But at the end of the day, we’re only as good as the people we’ve got. Keeping that engagement is major challenge; investing in that is one of the major things we’re trying to do.”

5. Backstage Commerce Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 2,400% (PROFIT 500 rank: 24)
Chief executive(s): Jonathan Morello
FTE employees: 15
Manufactures and imports professional hair and beauty products

How to get in front of customers: Trade shows can be a major source of business if they’re done right, according to Morello. Backstage Commerce participates in major trade shows across Canada and in the U.S., but it is careful not to ignore smaller independent, territory-specific distributor shows. “[The latter] are typically held in smaller sized venues,” Morello explaines, “but potential clients are more receptive.”

6. Motion Composites Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 2,241% (PROFIT 500 rank: 26)
Chief executive(s): Eric Simoneau & David Gingras
FTE employees: 57
Designs and manufactures wheelchairs

How to innovate relentlessly: “It’s really important for us not to sit on our success but to have continuous innovation,” explains Simoneau. “Last year we came out with the second generation of our carbon fibre wheelchairs, and we were competing against our first generation! We launched the first generation and were selling it for four years; in that time, nobody brought something to compete against it. So we said ‘OK, now we know how to make these chairs better, we’re going to make a second generation.’ We were trying to beat our own model. You need to have the will to invest in this kind of work, because it’s not free, it’s not easy and you need to put a lot of resources and hard work to achieve that.’ But it’s essential for us as a company to always bring innovation to the table.”

7. Delviro Energy Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 1,736% (PROFIT 500 rank: 35)
Chief executive(s): Joe DeLonghi
FTE employees: 25
Manufactures and supplies LED lighting

How to stay ahead of the curve: “In our industry, the biggest challenge is that technology is changing,” says DeLonghi. “We have responded by changing with it, quickly and efficiently, and not focusing on fear. Fear is the biggest problem in any business, and business leaders or business owners that have fear can’t make the changes they need to in order to succeed. You have to take a lot of risks to get to the point that we’re at right now. I find that a lot of our larger competitors that have been around for a while are too scared to make big changes.”

8. Lorna Vanderhaeghe Health Solutions Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 1,427% (PROFIT 500 rank: 43)
Chief executive(s): Lorna Vanderhaeghe
FTE employees: 27
Produces and distributes nutritional supplements and other women’s health products

How to know whether your product is a success: “Measure everything you do,” advises Vanderhaeghe. “Measure whether your programs work in regards to sales. We don’t do anything that we can’t measure the response for.”

9. dPoint Technologies Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 1,362% (PROFIT 500 rank: 45)
Chief executive(s): James Dean
FTE employees: 44
Manufactures energy-efficient heat and humidity exchangers

How to choose lucrative customers: “The HVAC industry is kind of slow to adopt new technologies,” explains Dean. “We’ve tried to find those companies who are not the number one players, but are the tier-two players who want to be number one, and are willing to take some chances and be more innovative.”

10. MSW Canadian Plastics Inc.

Five-year revenue growth: 1,294% (PROFIT 500 rank: 50)
Chief executive(s): Steve Bosman & Joel Koops
FTE employees: 17
Manufactures custom agricultural, industrial, residential and commercial PVC products

How to roll up your sleeves: “Don’t underestimate a hard days’ work,” says Bosman. “It goes back to the fundamentals of hard work paying off. Spend the extra hours on the phone, spend the times traveling, doing the hard work. You have to lay a big foundation in order to build a big company. It takes a lot of work, and it’s not going to come overnight, but if you don’t give up, you’ll succeed. Perseverance is a very big part of it, and that’s hard to find.”

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The Next 10:

11. Kinova Inc.

12. Kuus Inc.

13. EcoSynthetix Inc.

14. Precision Manufacturing Corp.

15. State Window Corp.

16. Vega

17. 5N Plus Inc.

18. Neovasc Inc.

19. Canada Goose Inc.

20. Sweets from the Earth

Read: A Look Inside a Wildly Successful Manufacturer

* * * * *

Other fast-growing manufacturers on the 2014 PROFIT 500:

Acier Profilé SBB Inc., Airworks Compressors Corp., Angstrom Engineering Inc., Barricades and Signs Ltd., Beneco Packaging, Blackline GPS Corp., Burlington Merchandising & Fixtures Inc., C-COM Satellite Systems Inc., Canada Stampings Ltd., Compass Compression Services Ltd., CR Plastic Products Inc., CT Innovation Inc., Cypress Solutions Inc., Distech Controls Inc., EB Box Co., Eclipse Automation Inc., Ergoresearch Ltd., Everland Natural Foods Inc., Everspring Farms Ltd., Granit et Marbre Castello, Groupe SVR, H2O Innovation Inc., HC Piper Manufacturing Inc., Impacto Protective Products Inc., Impressions Printing, Innovative Finishing Solutions Inc., Jessica Pastries Inc., Katilac Coatings Inc., Kilmarnock Enterprise, Left Coast Naturals, Liftsafe Group of Cos., Lorenz Conveying Products Corp., Mabel’s Labels Inc., MAD Elevator Fixtures Inc., Manitobah Mukluks, Marcon Metalfab Inc., MetalCraft Marine Inc., Mi5 Print & Digital Communications, Mircom Group of Cos., Molok North America Ltd., MSE Precast Ltd., Nautel Ltd., Neptune Technologies, Neustar Manufacturing Inc., Norstar Windows & Doors Ltd., Nutrasource Diagnostics Inc., Optel Vision Inc., Pacific Bolt Manufacturing Ltd., Papp Plastics & Distributing Ltd., Photon Control Inc., Polycorp Ltd., Prollenium Medical Technologies Inc., Protonics Cleaning Solutions Corp., Questor Technology Inc., Ronco Disposable Products Ltd., Scorpion Technologies Ltd., Sport Systems Canada Inc., StarFish Medical, Ltd., Stealth Energy Services, Stemmler Meats, STI Technologies Ltd., Suntrition Inc., Titan Logix Corp., TWI Foods Inc., Urban Quarry Inc., Valley Mats, Vinyltrends Inc., White House Design Co. Inc. and Zenan Custom Cresting.

Want to know more about the 2014 PROFIT 500? Click here.

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