Making the Case for Ontario's Automotive Sector

Making the Case for Ontario's Automotive Sector

Alliance touts the region as the 'No. 1 place to build cars in North America.'

Automotive OEMs and suppliers weren't the only ones doing some soul-searching during the recession.

Economic development officials in Ontario saw the economic crisis of the past few years as an opportunity to reevaluate how they promote their region, particularly as the largest cluster of automotive production in North America.

"In our communities, it made us take a look at how we're doing business, and that a collaborative approach makes a lot of sense," Bill Elliot, vice president of business development with Canada's Technology Triangle in the Waterloo Region, told IndustryWeek.

"If there are layoffs or hires in any one of our communities, it has an effect on the other communities. So it makes sense for us to work together."

That change in mindset spurred the formation of the Ontario Automotive Communities Alliance.

Chrysler's assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario
The alliance represents 60 automotive communities in a 400-kilometer corridor from Oshawa to Windsor, though several regional economic development agencies as well as Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.

With GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Navistar, AGS Automotive Systems and Magna International among the OEMs and suppliers with facilities in the region, the corridor accounts for 17% of all vehicles built in North America, according to the alliance.

"We were going to various automotive conferences and running into each other, so we said, 'Look, why don't we collaborate and do this together, even though we do compete for investments,'" Elliot explained. "I like to call it 'cooperatition.'"

Members of the alliance were making the case for further investment in Ontario earlier this week at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. While officials from the alliance have attended the seminars in the past, Elliot said this marked the first time that they came as a group.

The message they wanted to get across, said Elliot, was that Ontario's "Tier 1 talent and relentless innovation backed by focused funding" make it "the No. 1 place to build cars in North America."

"Many people don't realize that it's the largest automotive manufacturing jurisdiction in North America," he added.

And Ontario sees the automotive sector as a vehicle for continued growth. With the goal of becoming an international hub for green-tech research and the manufacturing of fuel-efficient vehicles, the province has stepped up its investments in the auto industry.

The University of Windsor recently unveiled the first phase of its $112 million Center for Engineering Innovation, while in Oshawa, the new $100 million GM Automotive Center of Excellence features the world's largest wind tunnel for automotive testing.

Both centers aim to expand the resources Ontario-based companies can tap into for research and to produce more trained workers, the alliance noted.

Currently, 43% of Ontario autoworkers have postsecondary training, and the province has more engineers per capita than any other G7 nation, according to the alliance.

In July, Ontario's focus on skills development attracted a $545 million commitment from Toyota to upgrade and expand its two Ontario plants.

The Ontario government is providing a $70.8 million grant and the federal government is providing a repayable loan for the same amount to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. for plant upgrades in Cambridge and Woodstock.

Toyota now employs 6,500 people in Canada.

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