Annual survey gives local business a road map to economic health of region
Monday, May 6, 2019
The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell
The Windsor-Essex region kicked off International Economic Development Week on Monday by highlighting Dainty Foods, Canada’s only rice mill, and a local food and beverage sector that quietly ships over $2 billion in product annually.
The region is rapidly growing into a major agri-foods powerhouse, it‘s already home to the second-largest cluster of greenhouses in the world, and Dainty Foods CEO Richard de Palmas is planning to push the 52-year-old Windsor plant along for the ride by investing millions in the west-side facility over the next few years.
“We’re applying for grants for our investment,” said de Palmas, adding he foresees a bright future for the plant. “Dainty Foods is investing three to five million in the coming two to three years depending on our growth.
“As we develop, we will need workforce,” he said. “We try to invest in talent.”
The plant, which is looking to hire some summer students, currently has 80 employees.
With such significant investments looming, de Palmas finds the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation’s annual business retention and expansion survey so useful.
Last year, over 130 companies completed the survey’s 39 questions.
“The initiative of the survey is a very good one to relay information among local businesses, to get the feel of how businesses are doing and to help them grow further,” said de Palmas, who has already overseen investment of $3 million in the plant since 2017.
“Benchmarking is a very important business practice. It is important to know where you stand compared to others.”
WEEDC president and CEO Stephen MacKenzie said the survey is part of a week of events. It also coordinates the work of several of the area’s economic organizations and data groups.
“By having an annual survey, we collect information and from that, trends start to evolve,” MacKenzie said. “In order to help our companies be successful, we need to know what’s going on.”
The online survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/edw2019 and will remain open until the end of the month. The results will be published at the end of the survey.
By coordinating the survey with local economic organizations, educational institutions and municipalities, MacKenzie said it eliminates survey fatigue for local businesses.
“Last year, the availability of workforce was identified as a challenge,” MacKenzie said. “There was also uncertainty over NAFTA. This year, we expect to hear the economy is growing.
“Is it easier to get trained workforce? I’m sure the machine and tool and die shops will have concerns about steel and aluminum tariffs.”
De Palmas said with Canada and, specifically, the local region being big players in the food manufacturing industry, there is much to learn from others.
“Most of (the survey questions) are about how our business is going,” de Palmas said. “It’s always good to know what other companies are doing.
“For example, if it’s difficult getting workers, you want to know if its your company that’s responsible for that or is it industrywide? Is it a trend or just yourself?”
De Palmas said it’s been easier finding workers this year and he attributes that to belief in the local economy. Workers are more willing to switch jobs or even industries because of that confidence in the economy.
All of these details are touched on each year in the survey so that companies can see the overall trends and issues locally. This is the third year of the survey but the first year Dainty Foods has participated.
De Palmas said participating in the survey is part of the company’s plan to create a higher community profile.
There are plans to welcome school groups to the plant later this year, the company is taking a more socially responsible approach to sourcing its rice around the world and is moving towards kicking off a zero-landfilling program in 2021.
“We’re trying to build a brand that supports employee morale and purpose,” de Palmas said. “You come for something everyday not just a cheque at the end of the week.
“Our brand’s ambition is to develop its responsibility.”