Green economy set to blossom in Windsor-Essex

Dave Waddell/The Windsor Star

Windsor-Essex County’s large and expanding footprint in the automotive, greenhouse and electric battery industries leaves it well positioned to capitalize on an anticipated rapid and diverse job growth in the emerging green economy, according to a new study by Workforce WindsorEssex.

What new jobs to expect, what they pay and the types of education and business supports that are needed to help the local green economy flourish are part of the study conducted by Workforce WindsorEssex project coordinator Kal Fakhreddin.

“We have become a hub for electric vehicles and batteries,” she told the Windsor Star. “Agriculture and greenhouses area also a huge part of our industry in Windsor Essex.

“We’re in a good position to expand on those industries. If we make the transition, it’ll be huge.”

Fakhreddin said the green economy may seem futuristic, even a bit of a mystery to some, but in reality there’s already a lot of crossover between traditional and green jobs.

The future will be a step closer later this spring as NextStar Energy and its joint venture partner Stellantis begin their next round of significant hiring as the giant battery plant inches closer to test production runs.

“We have a lot of manufacturing here that’s viewed as traditional jobs, but depending on what the job is it can also be considered a green job,” Fakhreddin said. “The skills can be transferable.

“The City of Windsor and Essex are doing the work to green the economy. We can see growth, but we’re just in the beginning stage.”

Fakhreddin said the best way to support the transition is by making it mutually beneficial.

Government supports targeting innovation, such as WEtech Alliance’s IDEA Fund and programs like First Robotics, are good first steps.

Business will embrace sustainable practices that improve productivity and profits while society in general benefits from the greening of the economy, she said. However, in some instances it may be necessary to employ emission caps and mandates for businesses resistant to adopting more environmentally friendly practices, Fakhreddin added.

“Businesses are also more socially aware and want to adapt more sustainable practices when they can,” she said. “Cutting down waste and time is beneficial to business and it’s greening the economy.”

Fakhreddin said the other key early pillar is collaboration between the education, government and business sectors to create the skilled workforce needed to fill these new positions.

“The college and university are doing a good job creating new programs to meet the needs of industry,” Fakhreddin said.

“We have to also work to increase the awareness among students about these opportunities in the green economy. Right now, it’s more awareness among those who already have a passion for the environment.”

Fakhreddin said there will be demand for a variety of jobs, including engineers of all stripes, skilled trades, chemists, horticulturists, wastewater technicians, environmental technologists, urban planners and installers to name but a few. In addition, there’ll be a need for professions that never existed before.

“The transition of Canada to a green economy will be the defining economic driver of the next century,” said Adam Castle, WEtech Alliance’s director of venture services.

“Much like we saw non-tech companies begin adopting a tech workforce to drive their evolution over the last century, we will see a day when all businesses participate in efforts to become environmentally sustainable.

“Our region’s workforce is primed to meet this demand head-on, both for jobs that exist today and the ones that will be vital for tomorrow,” he said.

The biggest new driver for the greening of the local economy will be the auto industry and the NextStar Energy battery plant, said Fakhreddin. NextStar will provide a large dose of stimulant to the green economy, with a minimum of 2,500 direct jobs and drawing thousands more to the supply chain.

“What we’ll have will be a major transition in manufacturing,” Fakhreddin said.