Windsor could be 'automobility capital of Canada': Economic diversification report
Windsor city hall in Windsor, Ont., on March 25, 2020. (Rich Garton / CTV Windsor)
WINDSOR, ONT. -- A new, comprehensive economic diversification report is touting Windsor as a place where the ‘automobility’ sector can thrive, along with a handful of other prospects the city should consider to help diversify its economy.
The report was commissioned by the mayor’s office with the blessing of city council. United Kingdom-based consulting firm ‘PublicFirst’ authored the 120-page study, which through in-depth analysis, outlines strategies and recommendations for driving Windsor’s economy into the future.
“We’re people who have spent a lot of time looking at other post-industrial cities around the world, and we have a sense of what has worked, and hasn’t worked,” says one of the study’s primary authors, Rachel Wolf.
While the subject of economic diversification isn’t new, the conversation was thrust into the forefront by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens in 2018, shortly after General Motors announced it was pulling out of Oshawa. Dilkens indicated in his state of the city address that Windsor shouldn’t rely solely on automotive manufacturing to bolster its economy
“We need to triple our efforts on the economic development front to fast track the diversification of our economy,” Dilkens said the night council was sworn in on Dec. 3, 2018.
Since then, it’s been Dilkens’ stated goal to substantially move the needle on diversification efforts, starting with the consultants’ report.
The strategy is called “Windsor Works” and it’s based around four main pillars — location, infrastructure, the future economy and talent.
“Our view on Windsor is it’s going to continue to be a place where things get made and things that get made brilliantly,” Wolf tells CTV News. “It can also to be a place where other sectors and other kinds of companies grow and thrive.”
The location strategy looks to build stronger ties with Detroit through more economic partnerships and cross-border business relationships. The report also emphasizes the importance of rebuilding Windsor’s reputation as an attractive place to live, work and play.
“All of these things are happening a little bit, they just need to happen in a big way and in a concerted and strategic way,” says Wolf.
The report suggests Windsor can capitalize on massive infrastructure projects like the Gordie Howe International Bridge and acute care hospital by attracting tech start-ups and research centres around healthcare and cross-border sectors.
The report also suggests — post-COVID — hosting an annual 21st century border conference to showcase the bridge to the world and build a reputation as a community that can build a centre of excellence around its attributes.
“It’s a question of whether the city wants to put itself on the map to say look, if you’re interested in the challenges and opportunities that come from data and the border, Windsor’s the place to come,” says another co-author, Blair Gibbs.
As for the future economy, the report suggests Windsor builds on its automotive roots by embracing the idea of going after technology, testing and research of autonomous components.
It also suggests Windsor establish the first ramp-up factory for electric and autonomous vehicles, and signal to upper levels of government that it would like to be considered a priority area for battery production by 2025.
“These things are all part of that future auto sector, which we think the city and it’s partners should make the goal,” says Gibbs. “Windsor should be the home of Canada’s future auto sector.”
Most importantly, Wolf says any strategy pursued by council will need full buy-in. To that end, the group is recommending a “Windsor Talent Steering Committee” — made up by mayor Dilkens, the leaders at Windsor’s post-secondary institutions, and private business representatives, with a goal of ensuring the skills and training delivered at the University of Windsor and St. Clair College match future opportunities.
“Talent is foundational to everything and we’re not going to get the companies you want, the sectors you want, the growth you want without talented people being trained in Windsor and wanting to come to Windsor,” Wolf says.
The report, will go to council on Feb. 8, 2021 for a special, single-issue meeting.
“We’re here to advise and they must decide,” says Gibbs. “But I think without a strategy and without a plan a lot of these good ideas won’t actually happen. So we need that leadership from the council to decide if this analysis is a fair one.”