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Windsor-Essex being eyed for billions in new industrial investment

Amherstburg's deputy CAO/Director of Developmental Services, Melissa Osborne, talks about the investment possibilities at the Allied Chemical property on Front Road in Amherstburg, on Monday, April 24, 2023. PHOTO BY DAX MELMER /Windsor Star

Windsor has often felt forgotten at the southern end of Ontario, but now the region finds itself in the geographic and business centre of a rapidly emerging electric vehicle/battery industry.
With Volkswagen announcing its intention last week to build a massive 90-gigawatt battery plant in St. Thomas, Windsor will be within a two-hour drive of 10 battery plants and four battery research and development facilities on either side of the border.Three of those sites are already locating in Windsor itself — the NextStar Energy battery plant, Stellantis’s major battery research and development addition to its existing Automotive Research and Development facility and Flex-Ion’s research and development plant.

“The Volkswagen battery plant is wonderful news for St. Thomas and the greater London area, but it’s a benefit to all of us in Ontario and natural progression from us landing the LG plant,” said Joe Goncalves, Invest WindsorEssex’s vice-president of investment attraction and strategic initiatives.

“We’ve already talked with a couple German companies about setting up here. We’re going through our list of suppliers to see who supplies Volkswagen and will be reaching out to more.“There will be a spillover effect from the Volkswagen announcement.”

Goncalves said the emergence of the Great Lakes basin as a battery manufacturing hub has led to Invest WindsorEssex’s strategy of selling the area as a logical site from which to service multiple battery plants.

Local officials have also already engaged with several suppliers for the factory that CATL, a Chinese battery manufacturer and technology company, will build for Ford Motor Company in Marshall, Mich. LG Energy Solutions also has two plants in Michigan and another in Ohio while its Windsor partner, Stellantis, is building a second battery plant with Samsung in Indiana.

“Our location, the community improvement programs local municipalities have and the fact we will have a battery plant that’s up and running in 2024 and at full production in 2025 adds to our value proposition,” Goncalves said.

“A lot of these companies want to be operational by 2025. In Windsor, they don’t have to wait for plants to be built, and we have easy access to all these other plants.”InvestWindsor Essex currently has requests for information from battery plant suppliers for projects worth over $2.5 billion.

“Well over $1 billion of those are already at the pretty high level of site selection stuff with municipalities,” Goncalves said.

“We have a company from Japan coming for a visit May 15. Focusing on attracting Japanese companies is our next real push.”

Goncalves said timing and opportunity will be a key part of the equation going forward, so the town of Amherstburg’s announcement last week that it had launched a Community Improvement Program has put that community in an excellent position to attract plants.The Amherstburg Land Holdings site (formerly Allied Chemical) is the largest single piece of shovel-ready industrial land in Essex County.

The site, which is owned by Honeywell, offers 200-plus acres of serviced land zoned for heavy industry. It also has access to the Essex Terminal Rail lines and water access to the Detroit River.

“We’ve already had discussions with several companies about the Amherstburg site,” Goncalves said.“The CIP makes the community extremely competitive. The site fits the perspective for several companies.”

The town’s CIP covers both industrial and commercial investments, from Texas Road to Lowes Side Road in Amherstburg.“We’ve received a lot of (requests for information) over the last year and one of the first questions is what incentives were offered,” said Amherstburg’s deputy chief administrative officer/director of development Melissa Osborne.

“Without a CIP in place, council didn’t have any recourse to address that.”

The plan offers a rebate of the difference in taxes between what the tax rate on the land is now versus its value after development. The rebate is for periods up to 10 years.

Industrial investment is eligible for a rebate up to 100 per cent while it’s 50 per cent for commercial development.

There must also be a minimum of 60 full-time jobs and an investment of $1 million or more for the industrial rebate. For commercial investments to qualify for the 50 per cent rebate, the investment must create 20 full-time jobs and be valued at $500,000 or more.

Companies that qualify then become eligible for a waiving of 100 per cent of the project’s development charges. There’s also a waiving of 100 per cent of the planning fees up to a maximum of $20,000 per project.

“The CIP is also available for companies that are already in existence,” Osborne said. “Companies like Diageo (bottler of Crown Royal whisky) fall within the CIP and would be eligible if they chose to expand.”

Osborne said landing one or two feeder plants of 200 jobs apiece is a game-changer for communities the size of Amherstburg.

“It’s not just Amherstburg, it’s opportunities for all the municipalities in Essex County,” Osborne said. “It would also draw other businesses and people to the community.”

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