Ontario Leads in Life Sciences, ICT, and Automotive Innovation
A favorable business climate, highly educated work force, and spirit of innovation are helping Ontario advance its economy.
Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (June/July 10)
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Canada's Solar Bancorp and India's multinational HHV Solar announced in May plans to open the province's first solar panel manufacturing center in Windsor, which will employ some 200 engineers and production workers.
"The Green Energy Act is progressive in many ways, most obviously because it will allow Ontario to phase out coal, but more importantly and more progressively in how it will go about creating local, green jobs here in the province," said Stuart Trew, trade campaigner at the Council of Canadians, at a May conference of the Centre for Civic Governance. "The plan involves using provincial procurement in a creative and proven way to incentivize companies to source components and labor locally."
According to the Conference Board of Canada, Ontario and Alberta have the highest levels of climate-friendly technology investments. Between 2010 and 2014, such spending will hit about $2 billion in Ontario, according to a May report. Those dollars will add to the province's gross domestic product and contribute to greater exports.
Driving the Province's Economy
In recent years Ontario has overtaken Michigan as the North American capital of motor vehicle production, according to industry sources. Despite the auto industry's economic troubles, Pupatello says the sector is performing relatively well.
"Our automotive sector was less affected than competing jurisdictions," Pupatello says. "In 2004, 2005, and 2006 we partnered with the automotive sector and with international automotive companies to make massive investments in their facilities. So when big companies had to make decisions, they spared a lot of Ontario facilities."
And the auto recovery is heating up. Chrysler's Ontario minivan plant has added another shift, Toyota is adding a shift, and General Motors can hardly keep up with the demand for its Ontario-fabricated products. GM Canada recently announced that it will recall 700 employees to Oshawa and Ingersoll facilities, with a third shift planned at an Oshawa facility. Honda plans another shift at its assembly plant in Alliston next year, creating 400 jobs.
In March Ford announced the transformation of its Essex engine plant in Windsor, dubbed Project Renaissance. It will create a flexible manufacturing environment while establishing the North American Centre for Diesel and Advanced Powertrain Technology, Research and Innovation. The provincial government is offering about $81 million in addition to the $17 million it contributed two years ago that helped reopen the then-closed plant.
Cooperation and collaboration achieve such advancements, said James Tetreault, Ford's vice president of North American manufacturing, at the March announcement. "To be truly competitive at a world-class level we have to work together," he said. "We have to build partnerships between business, labor, and government. And it's that spirit of collaboration combined with a willingness to innovate that has breathed new life into the operations at the Essex engine plant."
Ontario felt the pain of the automotive sector's slump. But automakers' commitments to their Ontario facilities lessened the impact, Pupatello says, compared to other auto-centric areas.
The same can be said of the province's overall economy. Times were not quite as tough in Ontario for several reasons. "No question we suffered the same fate as the rest of the world," Pupatello says. "But it's not how you fall down, but how you get up."
Canada's sensible regulation of its financial sector helped. While Canadian governments are typically pro-business, they still enforced stricter capital requirements and took other measures that prevented the kind of meltdown that afflicted the American financial sector. "We didn't have bank failures, which allowed businesses to have some continuity here," Pupatello says. "The job losses were not as dramatic."