Michael McDonnell
Chief Technology and Innovation Officer - Amsted Rail

Defining the Future of Rail from PEI

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Takeaways

  1. The rail and freight industry is increasingly digitzed, with businesses looking for investment locations with high technological capabilities.
  2. Prince Edward Island’s robust academic environment helps prodce a great stock of technology talent.
  3. The size of Prince Edward Island allows key players within the ecosystem to easily collaborate and work efficiently.

Action

Investors looking for a location with strong technological capabilities should consider Prince Edward Island for its strong tech talent pool and the willingness of its government to help new businesses set up office space, acquire talent and more.


Tell us about yourself and Amsted Rail.

Amsted Rail is a distributed manufacturing company that makes train components. Basically, we make everything underneath a rail car. We produce around the world, and I help support and lead the technology group as the Chief Digital and Technology Innovation Officer. I am happy to be here with you today to talk about our activities and business in Canada.


What are the trends shaping the future of rail and the freight industry? 

The freight industry in Canada has been on a digital journey for many years now, with heavy manufacturing that has been digitized. We have state-of-the-art operating systems, manufacturing execution systems and sensors. We are using things like the HoloLens to support customers. The digitization of operations as we move into Industry 4.0 has been impressive and it is great to see the company adopt these innovations and find value from them. This is a business that was done by stopwatches and clipboards not long ago and now the digitization of the rail and freight industry has added a lot of value from a quality and efficiency perspective in terms of Canada’s digital transformation. It is a journey that is never-ending as newer technologies and opportunities keep presenting themselves.


Why did Amsted Rail establish a presence in Prince Edward Island? 

This is an incredibly important centre that we opened right before the pandemic. I and my wife were on vacation in Prince Edward Island. She was born there 55 years ago and had not been back, and it has been on her bucket list to go back to Prince Edward Island. We finally made that journey and one of the things she pointed out to me is that technology is a big part of the economy in Prince Edward Island.

“Amsted Rail found great talent, universities and colleges in Prince Edward Island that support the technology field.“

I started to do some research and talked with a lot of folks while I was there on vacation and realized that there was an opportunity to extend our team from a technology support perspective, so we opened a support centre to Amsted’s worldwide manufacturing plants. Amsted Rail found great talent, universities and colleges in Prince Edward Island that support the technology field. The Canadian government is also highly involved in attracting new business to Canada and so it was a good combination of benefits that brought us here. There was potential for innovation and we were willing to take a chance. Coming to Prince Edward Island has paid big dividends for our company throughout the pandemic and our people here will be part of our portfolio of talent going forward.

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What is the availability and quality of talent in Prince Edward Island? 

We started the centre as a cybersecurity centre, and we have certainly found talent there from folks on the island. The local educational institutions such as Holland College and the University of Prince Edward Island both have good programming schools and produce great programming talent. Beyond that, there is also talent needed for accounting, human resources (HR) and other shared service support roles for sure. The universities are certainly producing good talent there. 

They have some neat programs. Universities in Prince Edward Island provide programs with on-the-job training so employers can bring somebody in and see if there is a fit. We are signed up for some of those programs. There are some engineering internships that we have done with the University of Prince Edward Island that have been very interesting and intriguing, and we will continue those relationships.

“Amsted Rail has not been at a loss for technology talent as well as HR, engineering and accounting talent in Prince Edward Island.“

Amsted Rail has not been at a loss for technology talent as well as HR, engineering and accounting talent in Prince Edward Island. The island has been a good spigot of talent for our business and we are looking to grow that over time.


What has the government done to help you attract and retain the talent necessary for your operations?

There are tight relationships among industry, government and the universities there. Prince Edward Island is not a very big place, so it is highly connected due to its small footprint with organizations all working closely and formally with one another. There are relationships between all stakeholders on Prince Edward Island to attract talent to the island, develop that talent and help companies fill positions.

Between some rebate programs available there and the HR recruiting mechanisms they have, if talent cannot be found on the island, there are mechanisms to find it through other avenues. The government has been heavily involved from day one. There is an arm called Innovation and Invest PEI that is highly involved with helping companies get set up on the island. 

In terms of office space, the island has a state-of-the-art Atlantic Technology Centre. that was our original office there. Prince Edward Island provides great floor space for office at a great price. We have since moved into our own floor space, but it was highly economically beneficial for us to get started in the initial office space.


Why should foreign investors come to Prince Edward Island and Canada?

A personal observation I had when on vacation was that the people here are incredibly hardworking and friendly, and many had technology degrees. A lot of people leave the island to go to college and then return for family, resulting in an educated workforce. I knew I could do something with that. We had to develop the relationships, establish the business and find office space to start attracting talent, but if you work at that the benefits are immense and you reap many rewards from the valuable talent pool there. The mechanisms that feed the talent pool in PEI through local universities are strong. Add in strong government support and the province had a powerful business case for us. We are looking to expand over time.

I would encourage anybody looking at a similar staffing model to reach out to me and I can share our experience in more detail. There are a few preliminary requirements to look at. You should figure out the talent you need and the availability of that talent on the island. Learn more about the kind of university support available for the skill sets you need, as well as the government support you need for being on the island. We found a great combination of all those things and we are very pleased with the new centre.

Michael McDonnell
Chief Technology and Innovation Officer - Amsted Rail

Bio: Michael McDonnel is the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Amsted Rail. He has had a long career in the transportation logistics and telecommunication industries, having served in a number of different technology leadership roles at YRC Worldwide and Sprint Corporation, which has since merged with T-Mobile

Organization Profile: Amsted Rail is a global provider of systems and components for freight and transit railcars and locomotives. They also have a focus on Industry of Things telematics solutions for the management of rail assets. With more than 18,000 employees worldwide, they have operations spanning six continents and a presence in every major railroad market.