The federal government is spending $5 million to turn Windsor, Ont., — once undoubtedly theautomotive capital of Canada — into an“automobility innovation cluster.”
To develop the cluster, the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) will partner with local organizations and business “to advance automobility technologies,” the Liberal government said Friday.
The cluster will focus on connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles. In collaboration withthe University of Windsor, including the Cross-Border Institute, the project also aims to help Canadian automotive businesses better integrate with international supply chains.
“Windsor-Essex is an integral region for economic development, trade and partnerships, and collaboration on this exciting new initiative is key to the region seizing new opportunities afforded by the innovation economy,” Marco Mendicino, Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of Infrastructure and Communities, said in a statement.
He made the funding announcement on behalf of Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the minister responsible for FedDev Ontario, from which the funds will come.
“The creation and emergence of connected nodes in Canada is always good news,” said Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association. “Windsor’s proximity to globally relevant activity in Michigan and Stratford, Ont., is another link in the chain.”
Volpe said Canada has to transition away from traditional manufacture, “that’s for sure.”
“But if you remain in manufacturing, the more advanced platforms are the ones you need to be manufacturing. If you’re doing that, you’re in the game,” he said.
Mendicino said the federal government expects the new cluster in Windsor to work with the province's Autobomous Vehicle Innovation Project in Stratford and with the Ontario Advance Manufacturing Supercluster.
As a result of the $5 million in federal spending, WEEDC said it expects to support 165 companies, establish 20 new partnerships, attract $9 million in foreign direct investment, and create and maintain a total of 665 jobs in the region.
No projects or companies were specifically named Friday. But Mendicino said the virtual reality cave at the Cross-Border Institute is an example of the kind of technology the new cluster is expected to develop.
"Part of [this technology] is going to be be very emerging and evolving," Mendicino said.
Mendicino said the investment in Windsor will provide ongoing returns in the auto industry.
“With more than a century of automotive manufacturing expertise, a highly skilled workforce and an ideal geographic location, the Windsor-Essex region is well-positioned to become a leader in mobility innovation,” the federal government said in a statement. “The government of Canada recognizes that economic diversification is key to resilience and is making strategic investments that leverage regional strengths to create the right conditions for continued growth in our evolving economy.”
The news comes as more than 250 Unifor members prepare for the closure of Nemak’s engine block plant in Windsor and just months before FCA plans to end an entire shift at its Windsor minivan plant. About 1,500 people will be out of work.
FCA razed its Pillette Road truck assembly plant more than a decade ago and GM no longer has apresence in the city, having closed and razed its Windsor Transmission plant. Ford closed its Essex Aluminum and Windsor Casting operations but stillruns two engine plants. But the automaker it isn’t hiring any time soon.