04/28/2015 07:18 EDT | Updated 08/01/2015 01:59 EDT

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence economy to grow in 2015: BMO report

A positive economic outlook for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region in 2015 is predicted in a new report released by Bank of Montreal. 

"The region's expansion is expected to accelerate in 2015, as manufacturing and exports in Ontario and Quebec get a boost from a weaker currency and firm U.S. demand, while states in the region see an ongoing housing recovery offset somewhat by the strong U.S. dollar," BMO's chief economist Doug Porter said at a forum in Chicago. 

"We have seen a big decline in manufacturing employment, not just in this region, but across North America over the last 15 years [but] it is still a very manufacturing intensive region. It does benefit when the manufacturing cycle is improving, and we do see the manufacturing cycle improving for both Canada and the U.S.," he said. 

Porter called the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region the third largest economy in the world, if it were a country. 

"It's a vital driver of North American economic output, employment and trade, accounting for nearly a third of combined Canadian and U.S. output, jobs and exports," said Porter.

He does point out several constraints over the next couple of years that will affect the region.

In Canada he said the constraint over the next few years will be the lack of industrial capacity. 

"Business investment in the last few years have been weak in the area, and there's not a lot of room for the manufacturing sector to grow over the next few years, but we see that not as a permanent situation and with the Canadian dollar at a much more competitive level we do think there will be much more business investment in the region over the next few years," said Porter. 

'Time to get aggressive' 

Matt Marchand, the president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, in Windsor, Ont., across from Detroit. Mich., said many members have benefited from the lower Canadian dollar. 

"It makes the Canadian products cheaper and ... it's already done in a way that's first class in terms of quality, so you have the same quality at a lower price, it makes our products far more competitive and therefore they're doing quite well," he said. 

Marchand said the weaker Canadian dollar is influenced by the lower oil prices, which experts say will stay low for a while. 

"This is not the time for complacency, this is the time to get aggressive and really capitalize manufacturing opportunities the marketplace is offering," he said. 

Marchand said one of the biggest challenges in terms of exports in Ontario is that not many businesses in the region export their goods. He said only about 10 per cent of small and medium size businesses export. 

"Given this environment, it's an opportunity for us to talk to our members in the business community about the importance of exporting, and given the dollar situation, now is the time to do it," said Marchand. 

Marchand said he didn't see much about agriculture in the report, but said the lower dollar is helping the region's competitive advantage. 

"The high input cost of energy have been taken off by the table at least for now ... it's helped us, but we have to be vigilant, stay aggressive and keep doing what we're doing," Marchand said.