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Friday, March 31, 2017

Jarvis: Jobs, jobs, jobs — for the U.S. and Canada

The Windsor Star/Anne Jarvis

http://windsorstar.com/opinion/columnists/jarvis-jobs-jobs-jobs-for-the-u-s-and-canada

 

Room to breathe, stability, a family vacation — that’s what the $600-million investment in Ford here means to the 1,500 people who work at the company’s two engine plants.

Jeff King was laid off from his job as an electrician at Ford’s Essex Engine Plant for five years. Co-worker Robert Wilson was laid off eight years.

Two-hundred-sixty-eight people at Ford here are still laid off.

But by the middle of next year, they’ll all be working after the company announced a $1.2-billion investment in Canada, including $600 million for a new, global engine to be built exclusively in Windsor.

The Windsor Engine Plant had been considered in jeopardy for years. Now, those jobs are also secure.

Unifor Local 200 expects 400 new jobs. 

“We could actually get to the point where we’re hiring again,” president Chris Taylor said.

All new equipment to build the new engine will provide flexibility to shift production to meet consumer demand, meaning jobs, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “for generations to come.” The company’s Powertrain Engineering Research and Development Centre at Essex Engine will also receive part of another $500 million for R&D.

“We are transforming Windsor Engine Plant,” Ford president of the Americas Joe Hinrichs said.

The company is “positioning Windsor as one of the most competitive and important engine facilities in the Ford global manufacturing system,” he said. 

Said King, “Definitely, some of us who have been through a rough time, it gives us a little bit of breathing room.”

“It gives stability in life,” said Wilson.

“You can think about those big moves in your family life — taking a bigger family vacation,” King said.

Angela Kustra has worked at Ford for 33 years, and “this is the best day,” she said, giddy.

She retires Friday.

“My Ford friends are all going to get to see retirement like I am,” she said. “It just makes me so happy. I can leave in peace.”

It’s hard to explain what it means to the community, said Taylor.

“Today is really about hope,” said Unifor president Jerry Dias.

He said he thought about Windsor’s struggles, about young people who left.

“This is about finding a way to get you back home,” he said.

For those here — “you have security,” he told the shift of 300 workers gathered for the announcement. “Go out and buy yourselves a car!”

But Ford and the federal and provincial governments did more than announce money and jobs Thursday. They sent a message.

On Tuesday, Hinrichs announced $1.2 billion in investments at three plants in Michigan.

“Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” President Donald Trump tweeted.

On Thursday, Hinrichs came here and announced the $1.2 billion in investments at its plants in Windsor and Oakville and a research centre in Ottawa. Altogether, the investments will maintain or create 800 jobs.

Ford had agreed to invest $700 million in Windsor and Oakville as part of the new contract with Unifor. But it added another half billion dollars for research into connected cars.

The announcement drew one of the largest investments the federal and provincial governments have made — $102 million each. And, unlike the previous federal government’s announcements, its share, like the provincial government’s, is a grant, not a loan.

The announcement also drew rows of VIPs — Trudeau, whose father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, helped break ground for Essex Engine 40 years ago, and Premier Kathleen Wynne. Ford sent Hinrichs, Ford of Canada CEO Mark Buzzell, the company’s vice-president of North American manufacturing and its director of North American engine operations.

Facing U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA and the Republicans’ threat to charge border taxes, Thursday seemed meant to underscore how integrated the auto industries — and economies — of both countries are.

This investment is about the future, Hinrichs said, and that future includes Canada. As Wynne said, $1.2 billion “is a huge commitment and vote of confidence in this province.”

Said Hinrichs, “There’s obviously a very integrated auto industry in North America. We look forward to seeing how NAFTA will work in the future to support this global auto industry.”

What Ford is saying, said Taylor, is that “Canada is an extremely important market to them and our operations are going to be a pillar of their business. The announcement today clearly sends a message that regardless of what Donald Trump says or does, this investment is coming here, and they’re in Windsor and Canada for the long haul.”

Trudeau talked about investing in skills and innovation, but Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains is spending three days this week meeting with government and industry officials in the U.S., discussing the integrated economies of the two countries and how to strengthen the auto cluster that straddles the border here.

Wynne, who discussed the integrated supply chains in a meeting with auto executives last week, came right out and said it: “I will continue to defend free and open trade between Ontario and the United States because that trade underpins the success of the North American auto industry.”

Windsor-Essex

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