Windsor-Essex invites mobility companies to invest in the region at NAIAS
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
The Windsor Star/Taylor Campbell
That’s the message local organizations had for tech companies in search of a long-term home as they make their pitch during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
One level below the vehicle showroom floor, almost 100 mobility-field stakeholders set up booths of their own at an event entitled AutoMobili-D. Research groups and entrepreneurs presented their work in vehicle connectivity, ride-sharing, autonomous vehicles and more. At the same time, interested municipalities sold themselves as ideal places for mobility companies to invest. Windsor Essex was among them.
“We have a united ecosystem to support technology development research right through to testing, validation, and hopefully commercialization and job creation,” Stephen MacKenzie, CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, said from the auto show Tuesday. “In this particular case, we’re focusing on the mobility industry.”
The development corporation was just one of the four local organizations collaborating to run the Windsor Essex booth at the event. Representatives from WEtech Alliance, St. Clair College and the University of Windsor take turns making the pitch for the region over the show’s 12-hour days.
MacKenzie said interested parties want to know that they’ll be fully supported by the municipalities they locate in. Recent partnerships between organizations in Windsor and Essex County are helping to prove the area has everything investors need to succeed. In years past, these groups have worked in isolation to promote the area, he said. Now, they’re one Windsor Essex team.
“We’re more than just a small community,” said Gary McNamara, the warden of Essex County and mayor of Tecumseh. He spent several hours at the NAIAS Windsor-Essex booth Tuesday. “I think we’re a community that packs a real punch.”
“You can’t find success if you don’t participate in these types of shows,” McNamara said. “This is critical for us and it’s in our backyard, so we’re going to take full advantage of it.”
With Windsor’s legacy as the automotive capital of Canada, mobility technology is a logical focus for the region, said MacKenzie. The WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation created a mobility analyst position this year to accommodate that focus.
“There’s a lot of competition,” he said. “A region of 400,000 can’t be experts in everything, and can’t spend the money it takes to be experts in everything. But we can be resourceful. We can look at our assets, our professors, our knowledge, our support agencies, and say what we have that other parts of the world don’t have.”
Close proximity to the international border was a major focus for the region’s presenters throughout the event. The need to consider adapting technology to accommodate border-crossing issues made several company reps stop to think.
“Companies don’t consider what will happen when their products go through a tunnel,” MacKenzie said. He asked how autonomous vehicles and rideshare technology would behave if they lost their signal in the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.
The auto show’s AutoMobili-D event is just one of several large networking opportunities the group of Windsor Essex organizations plan to attend. In February, the group will bring its invest-in-Windsor message to Toronto for the Canadian International AutoShow. In June, it will attend the True North tech conference.
Just last week, MacKenzie travelled to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics show, which saw 180,000 people in attendance. There, he met with startups from Israel in the mobility sector to learn how they foster innovation, he said.
“We want our region to lead disruption, not be a victim of it,” MacKenzie said.
Although economic “booms and busts” will always have an impact, he hoped the group’s efforts would help to insulate the region against negative business cycles.
“Let’s be in on the innovation,” MacKenzie added. “Let’s lead it, so the benefits that will follow from that technology being developed all the way through happen in our region, and not somewhere else.”