Electronics firm sets up in Windsor with promise of 148 jobs

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross




A Swiss-based firm specializing in automotive electronics and lighting is quietly setting up its North American headquarters in Windsor and pledging to create 148 jobs — including high-tech research and development positions — within five years.

“You have to use your imagination,” Mariusz Olszowik, the launch manager for APAG Elektronik Corp.’s Windsor operation, said Tuesday as he gave The Star a tour of the former Fed Ex building on Rhodes Drive. With an $11-million investment, it’s being transformed into a pristinely clean facility for the development and production of electronic components.

Hiring has already started with software, hardware and production engineers already at work in the building’s front office.

Once the facility is going full bore with 148 staff, managing director Anand Kanoria said he expects there will be 15 staff in the R&D department, 30 to 40 in product administration and the remainder production workers and operators. New hires are being brought in, such as machine engineers, quality control, logistics and procurement experts. The company has already lined up business from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Cadillac.

“Our first customer project kicks off for May of 2019. From that point on, we’ll be hiring more and more workers,” said Kanoria. When asked about wages, he said the company is still studying what pay and benefits it will provide.

“We’ll definitely be competitive, besides offering a great work environment,” he said during a phone interview from Switzerland.

While the company has been setting up for several months, APAG’s presence here only became public with its application to the city for incentives under the Economic Revitalization Community Improvement Plan. A report goes to council’s planning, heritage and economic development standing committee next Monday, recommending that the city provide rebates, representing the difference between the current municipal taxes and the taxes once the property is improved, for 10 years.

“This is really good news,” Mayor Drew Dilkens said. “It is real good because it’s not just production, it’s also the design. So this is not just stitching together the pieces, it’s programming, design. That’s what’s exciting about this.”

Rakesh Naidu, chief operations officer of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation said this kind of company “fills a critical gap.”

“It’s an area we don’t have too many companies — research and development and manufacturing of electronic equipment — so this is an interesting and great addition to the manufacturing sector,” he said. And APAG isn’t just an automotive supplier. About 30 per cent of its business is in other sectors.

“It’s good to have a company that is not reliant only on automotive, they have an eye on other sectors as well.”

Naidu also said that the 148 new jobs could be just a starting point. APAG is a strong player in its field with lots of experience, he said.

“I think the 148 number in five years is a very conservative estimate.”

Kanoria said APAG is a diverse company that in Windsor will focus on: research and development for electronic control units; and production of these units as well as electronics and lighting designed by its customers. These control units are relatively small, complex devices that perform many functions in a car. APAG focuses not on core driving functions, but on what it calls the luxury functions, such as making the spoiler on a sports car go up and down depending on speed, or making a steering wheel go up and down. It also specializes in small interior and exterior lights, like in a door handle.

Kanoria said the company has already recruited engineers out of the University of Windsor and plans to do business with the region’s tool and die companies. The former Fed Ex building (Fed Ex moved to a new location at the airport) is leased from landlord Jeffrey Louis Cooper. APAG only recently confirmed Windsor as its North American headquarters. It is still waiting for confirmation of assistance from Windsor and the provincial government.

The extensive renovation of the 32,300-square-foot building will cost $3.2 million to accommodate production, office and research and development spaces. “The facility will be temperature controlled, humidity controlled and pressurized for dust repulsion,” according to an APAG business overview.

It says that with much of the North American auto industry moving to Mexico, the decision about where to locate its North American operation “took time.” Canada, Mexico and the U.S. all had their advantages, the overview says.

“Following meetings with municipal and provincial representatives, local business professionals and others, APAG chose Windsor-Essex. This decision was in part due to the proximity of the international border and the government incentives that could be made available.”

The company is also investing $8 million for equipment. It’s not yet known how much the city’s rebates will amount to, because the assessed value of the property, once it’s been improved, hasn’t been determined.

But the mayor said the payoff — the 148 jobs, including research and development jobs — is worth it.

“We think the investment is a really good investment.”