Canada

Minister boosts Windsor’s bid to transform into high-tech auto-mobility centre

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Liberal Minister of Economic Development Melanie Joly gave a vote of support Tuesday to the Windsor region’s bid to become a centre of high-tech development, research and innovation in the auto-mobility sector.

During a phone interview, Joly raised the proposal as the type of initiative FedDev Ontario is interested in as part of the federal government’s investments to relaunch and rebuild the economy.

“(Invest WindsorEssex) is submitting a project of creating a cluster for the auto sector,” Joly said.

“I’ve got a letter from the Mayor (Drew Dilkens) and I’m supporting it. I’m looking forward to making good announcements in the coming weeks about that.”

Joly said because the federal government’s regional investment agency has spent $536-million to support over 25,000 jobs in southern Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation will be solid for such a project to succeed.

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The Invest WindsorEssex initiative was seven months in the making and will include in-kind investments from private sector partners as well as partnerships with Windsor’s post-secondary institutions.

Its aim is to continue the region’s transformation from traditional auto assembly through automation into a centre of high-tech innovation and development to make it the Canadian capital of auto mobility.

Among the elements included in the proposal are creating several mobility/entrepreneurship accelerators specific to the sector, establish positions in local post-secondary institutions to liaison with industry, develop talent pipelines, create an IT auto mobility hub and simulator lab for software development, support the growing local cyber security sector, battery production, establish an electric powertrain commercialization centre, build mobility and data platforms along with recruiting new talent and companies.

Among the more innovative proposals underway with an international partner is the development of a ramp-up factory for small batch production related to electric transportation.

Joly said Windsor has already established itself as a cluster, but the proposal makes it easier for governments to understand and support initiatives.

“The idea is to make sure big and small companies and academics are able to come together to make sure best practices are shared, advocacy made on behalf of the sector and to attract investments,” Joly said.

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“Where you see clusters really, really working then you see investment on the parts of different governments — municipal, provincial and federal.

“I think it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Invest WindsorEssex CEO/president Stephen Mackenzie said the strategic plan would harness the region’s entire auto mobility ecosystem and focus it’s view of the future and its voice.

“It’s an incubator on steroids,” Mackenzie said.

“The private sector is partnering and we’ll be leveraging that. We’ve put together a lot of data and evidence on the sustainability of this. It fits well with the federal government’s goal of a greener economy.

“If all goes well, we hope to have some exciting announcements in the near future.”

Joly was also upbeat in support of two other key local projects — Stellantis’s retooling of the Windsor Assembly Plant and the bid to land a battery manufacturing plant.

Stellantis submitted its business plan about two months ago to the federal government for what it needs to add a second vehicle in Windsor and begin producing battery electric vehicles there.

Invest WindsorEssex is currently working with more than one battery manufacturer in an effort to land a production facility.

“This (Windsor Assembly) is an important project for the region and we’ve been there for Windsor since the beginning,” said Joly, noting the $3-billion boost to the government’s Innovation Fund in the 2021 budget.

“We’re extremely supportive of having a made in Canada battery. It is part of our vision to have a much cleaner economy.

“Being able to have a strong auto sector, that means the Windsor region, we’ve never had so much money on the table to help these types of technologies develop in Canada.”

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