A plot of land sprawling six square kilometres has been cordoned off on the northeastern fringe of St. Thomas, Ont. because the provincial and municipal governments clear the best way for a significant automotive investment within the southwestern Ontario city.
The 1,500-acre (600-hectare), shovel-ready site is the ultimate component needed for Ontario to “lure” the subsequent big electric vehicle or battery supply chain investor to the province, said Vic Fedeli, the province’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade.
“With the EV segment, everybody is trying to seek out a spot, get married to a spot, get going, and we desired to be certain that once they checked out Ontario, that they had no less than one mega-site to take a look at,” he told Automotive News Canada March 3.
The St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., began work to assemble the positioning about two years ago, in line with the organization’s CEO Sean Dyke.
In June 2022, town agreed to buy about 800 acres as a part of this plan, and today, St. Thomas controls nearly the entire 1,500-acre site. Several final land acquisitions have yet to shut on the “periphery” of the property Dyke added.
Prior to March 2, nevertheless, many of the land fell outside St. Thomas’s boundaries.
The province stepped in late last month to alter this. On Feb. 22, it introduced Bill 63, which proposed annexing a portion of the neighbouring municipality of Central Elgin for St. Thomas. The laws breezed through three readings and debates at Queen’s Park over the next eight days and received royal assent March 2.
Redrawing the map of St. Thomas will cut down on the “procedural and administrative nuisances” created when a plant straddles municipal barriers, said Brendan Sweeney, managing director of the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing, which advocates on behalf of Ontario’s manufacturing industry. He pointed to issues corresponding to the delivery of utilities and taxation.
“There’s not going to be a dividing line where in the event you’re within the paint shop, you’re in [one city], but in the event you’re within the weld shop, you’re in a special township.”
Having a single site owner and single local government eliminates uncertainty for prospective investors, Fedeli added.
“We are able to now confidently speak to prospects worldwide that we’ve got a possibility for them to step in and start development quickly.”
The positioning itself, Dyke said, is bookended by two railway lines, has strong highway links and excellent tie-ins to electrical and gas infrastructure.
The community also has deep automotive roots, he added. It was home to Ford Motor Co.’s St. Thomas Assembly, in addition to the Daimler-owned Sterling Truck Corp. plant, before each were shuttered following the 2008 financial crisis.
Fedeli wouldn’t say whether the province was pitching investors all for your complete 1,500-acre site, or a portion of it, but said having such a big site “puts us on plenty of lists … we weren’t in a position to be on previously.”
Even relative to other large automotive campuses elsewhere in Ontario, the positioning in St. Thomas stands out.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc.’s complex in Woodstock, Ont., as an example, is roughly 1,000 acres (400 hectares). In Alliston, Ont., Honda of Canada Mfg.’s three-plant campus sits on 890 acres (360 hectares). The recently announced Nextstar Energy Inc., battery plant being inbuilt Windsor, Ont., will occupy a 220-acre (89-hectare) plot.
Given the dimensions of the property in St. Thomas, Dyke said he expects a couple of company to occupy it, but he wouldn’t write off the opportunity of a single large investor.
Fedeli, who has met continuously with a series of Germany- and Japan-based automakers over the past two years, wouldn’t comment on what company tops his call sheet.
Yet the provincial and federal governments have stayed in particularly close touch with Volkswagen Group over the previous three months, lobbying records show. Rumours the German automaker was pursuing the St. Thomas site were also raised greater than once within the legislative debate over Bill 63 at Queen’s Park in February.
Volkswagen pointed to Canada in December as “one logical option” for its battery subsidiary PowerCo’s first North American battery cell plant, though it stopped wanting identifying the country because the only jurisdiction it was exploring.
The corporate has since shunned commenting publicly on its cell plant site search, but has registered greater than two dozen staff as lobbyists in Ontario, including Volkswagen CEO Oliver Blume and a spread of PowerCo employees with site selection, human resources, and facility and civil engineering responsibilities.
Fedeli wouldn’t comment on whether Volkswagen was weighing an investment in the positioning.
“We proceed to work with a lot of worldwide, well-known multinationals who’re looking all over the world at sites for his or her expansions.”
Volkswagen, meantime, is reportedly inching toward a choice on a location for its first North American cell plant.
The corporate announced plans to construct a recent US$2 billion assembly plant in South Carolina following a board meeting March 3. The planned battery plant was also expected to be up for discussion, Reuters reported prior to the meeting, though unlike the confirmation of the U.S. assembly operation, no cell plant announcement followed.