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Dave Waddell, Windsor Star
April 2, 2019
In each of the past four months, Jonathan Azzopardi has jetted halfway around the world to spend a week at a time trying to connect into the complicated web of the business community in India.
Azzopardi, who is president of Laval Tool, shares the growing opinion that it’s in such countries, once considered exotic, that an important piece of our economic future lies.
“It’s a really interesting, complicated place — a mix of old and very new,” said Azzopardi, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers and chair of the Auto Parts’ Manufacturers’ Association.
“It’s a growing economy — financial, infrastructure, manufacturing, technology — with growing opportunities both ways. It’s one of the places we have to go and connect the dots to the business community to get involved.”
“Windsor is in a spot where Michigan and
Ontario overlap getting the best from both worlds”
While local manufacturers have done a good job globalizing themselves in the last decade by expanding their markets and in the placement of their factories, Azzopardi said if we don’t move on India we’ll be left behind. India is now the fourth largest auto market in the world with over four million vehicles sold last year.
Azzopardi said the key to diversification is for local companies to take what they do well now for the automotive industry and see how it can be used in other industries and non-traditional markets.
“Automation, artificial intelligence, electric vehicles components, light weighting, manufacturing and agriculture, there are so many angles to come at this,” Azzopardi said. “We need to start looking at the broader base and planning.
“We have to start filling the gaps and we can do that. If we don’t, Europe, the U.S., China and even Africa will fill those gaps.”
Azzopardi said that was the message he delivered to Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, when the two met recently to discuss what government can do to help manufacturers.
He also emphasized to Smith the province needs to get the fundamentals right in what manufacturers look for in locating plants.
“Way of life, labour force and the energy portfolio are three of the biggest ones,” Azzopardi said.
“Companies will tell you management of the energy file reveals a lot about a place.”
Often Azzopardi isn’t alone on his journeys to India.
Twice in the last four months Windsor Economic Development Corporation staff have accompanied Azzopardi.
It’s part of an aggressive strategy by WEEDC to tap into new countries for leads on landing plants or creating markets.
“We’re not waiting around to see what happens (with the Windsor Assembly Plant),” said Stephen MacKenzie, WEEDC chief executive officer.
“We’re working to diversify the economy and attract new plants to transition us. We’re going to countries we really haven’t tapped into before.”
MacKenzie said he’s going to China to talk with two Chinese firms that have expressed an interest in opening plants in the Windsor area.
In addition, WEEDC staff have missions to Poland and the Netherlands scheduled to meet with firms looking at the area.
“We’re pursuing more new leads in Germany,” MacKenzie said. “We’re tapping more into Central Europe. We’ve got new target markets for existing companies and to attract new companies to the area.
“There’s still a lot of interest in this in this area despite what happened with the FCA announcement.”
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said he still sees a positive future ahead in the automotive sector for the region.
He points out the local benefits of the recent FCA announcement of an investment of $4.5-million US in creating a new plant in Detroit is being overlooked.
He added Ontario parts suppliers are also reporting increased sales since the end of the NAFTA negotiations.
“I asked the Windsor suppliers (last week) at a meeting whether they thought they’d have any visibility (get business) on the new FCA plant and four companies there said they would,” Volpe said. “That plant is new volume.
“Windsor is in a spot where Michigan and Ontario overlap getting the best from both worlds.”
In the short-term, local MPPs Percy Hadfield and Lisa Gretzky outlined some steps Monday at Queen’s Park the provincial government could take to support the 1,500 FCA workers facing layoffs in six months.
“In order to boost sales and stimulate the demand for Windsor-built vehicles, will the Premier place an order today for 1,500 or more new Windsor-built minivans?” Hatfield asked at Queen’s Park Monday.
“It wasn’t that many years ago, during another period of slumping automotive sales, that a previous government in Ontario did exactly that. Various ministries, health units and conservation authorities and so on use minivans.
“There’s no reason why these vehicles shouldn’t be built in Ontario.”
Gretzky pressed the Conservative government to restore rebates for electrical vehicles to support the hybrid Pacifica.
“We have a lot of options and we can’t afford to do nothing,” Gretzky said. “The Ford government needs to take real action, not just offer lip service, during this time of uncertainty for Windsor and Essex.”
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