Gigafactory in St. Thomas good news for Windsor-Essex, stakeholders say

Travis Fortnum/CTV News Windsor | with video

With Volkswagen poised to put a so-called “gigafactory” in St. Thomas, Ont., some raised questions over whether that might detract from Windsor-Essex’s automobility aspirations — but stakeholders say fear not.

Stephen MacKenzie, president and CEO of Invest WindsorEssex says the announcement is good for the region as a whole, Windsor-Essex included.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful win for all of us,” he says.

MacKenzie says a majority of the work leading up to the planned 2024 opening of the NextStar battery plant in Windsor has revolved around attracting suppliers who might want to set up shop close to the facility.

He says having another large EV battery plant just hours up the highway only makes that an easier sell.

“There’s lots of opportunities for those companies to set up between us,” MacKenzie says.

Both plants signal a change in tide for the region’s relationship with vehicle manufacturing, according to MacKenzie. A relationship going back about a century, but with a complicated past few decades.

“In this region there was a 20 year slow decline on automotive and related industry, but we have really turned that around and we are growing again,” he says.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association characterized Monday’s announcement in St. Thomas as a game changer for the town and the industry.

“St. Thomas lost automotive production from Ford and truck production from Sterling in 2010,” he said.

“There is no precedent for a town to get back into the auto business after it’s lost. This is like the Nordics playing in Quebec City again.”

MacKenzie says while the future is bright, the work is far from over.

“As a region we’ll have to work hard to make sure it gets implemented properly,” he says. “Working with the companies, making sure communities have sufficient housing and the infrastructure to absorb – because certainly people are going to have to move here.”