New business partnership helps lure firms to local area

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell



A new partnership between the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator has helped entice a Mississauga engineering firm and a San Francisco-based tech company to expand to Windsor.

ACH Engineering, which specializes in building clean rooms for the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, construction and agricultural industries, opened an office at the Accelerator’s Howard Avenue location in December and has already hired three local employees.

Details about the San Francisco firm, which works in the augmented reality sector, are expected to be announced later this month after the company finishes installing its software at the DWBA.

“The thing that attracted me was the support I got from the Accelerator and the Chamber of Commerce,” said ACH Engineering’s President Chirag Shah.

“When I was looking to invest they helped me find office space, find people to hire and make connections. Getting that level of support on the ground is very important coming into a new market.

“They had solutions to all my questions and made it easy to set up.”

Shah said his firm, which was founded in 2016, is already working on the new Pancap Pharma Inc. plant on Howard Avenue. He expects to finalize two more local deals in the next couple of months.

Chamber president and CEO Rakesh Naidu said the partnership agreement between his organization and the Accelerator was actually signed in late 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted its rollout.

“It’s an attempt to leverage our ecosystem’s strengths,” Naidu said. “We’re eliminating the silos.

“Several local agencies are working together to support startups, established companies and new companies. What we’re offering is a cohesive package of benefits and added value.”

The DWBA offers lower-cost office space and a basic membership to the local chamber of commerce.

The chamber bumps up that membership to its highest level for a year, allowing new companies using space at the Accelerator access to a full range of discounts, supports and networking, as well as access to a buffet of local and government programs.

The program is also available to local businesses that occupy space at the Accelerator.

Naidu said the business package complements existing offerings such as community improvement and brownfield redevelopment programs that have proven successful.

“The pandemic has opened up more avenues and opportunities that we hadn’t thought of early on with this program,” Naidu said.

“It was originally thought of as support for startups and new businesses in the area. We now realize there’s been a major change in work practices for individuals and companies.

“Companies are offering different employment opportunities and looking for more lower-cost options for those that don’t have to be near headquarters in the GTA.”

Shah said he won’t be the last company based in the Greater Toronto Area to land in the area.

He said the region has enormous cost advantages with 2,000 square feet of space in the GTA costing $1 million versus half that total cost locally.

“We have lots of clients who are looking to locate in the Southwestern Ontario corridor from Windsor to London because the GTA area has become too dense and costly,” said Shah, who has also recently opened an office in Calgary.

“When I was looking to expand, Windsor-Essex was the place to be for us. The costs are cheaper, there’s a large potential customer base and it’s close to the U.S. market.”

Shah is also working with the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation to shift production of the components and materials his firm needs from India to Windsor.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with his supply chain and has driven costs up, so the local sales pitch of having access to the region’s advanced manufacturing sector proved a winner.

“I paid $150,000 for 10 shipping containers last year,” Shah said.

“Then, what we used to get in four weeks, was taking up to eight to 12 weeks to get here to be assembled. I can get everything done in Windsor and control my supply chain better.”

Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator CEO Arthur Barbut said the plan is to aggressively recruit outside companies in 2021.

COVID-19 has shattered business models and strategies, he said, and offers the area real opportunities to take advantage of the economic reset that will take place.

“Companies are trying to figure it out,” Barbut said.

“Many are saying they can’t make it work in Toronto or they want to do it differently, but maybe it can work in Windsor.

“That’s starting to manifest now and others are seeing it.”

Barbut said the program’s target market is smaller businesses with 10 to 20 employees that are looking to grow to 50 to 100 workers.

“We’re going to see a 30- to 40-per-cent increase in the demand for co-working spaces like the Accelerator after the pandemic,” Barbut said.

“People like the concept, the networking and having an address and meeting spaces.”