The competition was ‘intense’ however St. Thomas wins the bidding war for Volkswagen EV battery plant

city_scope_logo-cmykAfter about a year’s worth of talks between Volkswagen, and the federal and provincial governments, the deal was made public this past Monday.
The automaker announced it was locating an electric-vehicle battery plant in St. Thomas.
It’s Volkswagen’s first overseas gigafactory.
It’s a logical choice given the city’s location, its proximity to essential minerals mined in Northern Ontario and required for production and the provincial deal just consummated that brings hundreds of acres of Central Elgin land into the confines of St. Thomas.
The plant will be operated by Volkswagen’s battery division, PowerCo.
Few details were made available on the size of the plant, the number of workers to be employed and how much will the deal ultimately cost taxpayers in this country.
More on that in a moment.
Following the announcement around noon on Monday, Mayor Joe Preston advised this is only the beginning.

“Any land St. Thomas could put a job-creating facility on, we will.
“We expect this, as we saw with other large industrial factories in the past, their suppliers like to move very close too and we will do our very best to satisfy everybody we can with land and a place to put great jobs for St. Thomas.”
Volkswagen announcement March 13-23With a workforce expected in the thousands, there is no way those jobs will be filled solely by city residents. Just like the former Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly Plant in past years, this plant will attract employees from across the region and likely beyond.
Several hours later at a hastily called media conference in the council chamber at city hall, Preston asserted “the city has secured its future.”
Preston indicated just how massive the undertaking will be for St. Thomas and the entire province.
“The federal government, the provincial government and the municipality and its great workforce is what caused us to be able to win this decision from Volkswagen.

“We’re not just going to ship our natural resources elsewhere, we’re going to create jobs and create a long-term economy.”

“This is the largest automotive facility ever in Canada coming to St. Thomas.”
That last comment prompted a couple of media questions on its validity.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Rob Flack called the announcement a game-changer.
He added the benefits include economic development, sustainable jobs and a made-in-Canada solution for the use of Canada’s natural resources.
“We’re not just going to ship our natural resources elsewhere, we’re going to create jobs and create a long-term economy.”
Flack added St. Thomas was in competition with 90 sites globally and it came down to 40 sites in the U.S.
“It was intense competition,” assured Flack.
MP Karen Vecchio added, “the impact of this on communities is going to be phenomenal. We will be able to have sustainable jobs into the future. I am so proud of what this council has done.”
U.S. officials desperately wanted this plant and we understand Oklahoma was highly regarded as a potential location.
According to Jesse Kline this week in the National Post, the U.S. was dangling upward of $14.5 billion (Can) under the Inflation Reduction Act.
The European Union was likewise preparing to offer mega bucks to Volkswagen to open a plant in eastern Europe.
So, how much did Canada have to up the ante to shift the firm’s focus north to this country?
Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has promised to make that information public “in due course.”
Specific details on the size of the plant and projected workforce will possibly be revealed next month when Volkswagen reps and federal and provincial government officials are expected to make a formal announcement at the 1,500-acre site.
However, the Stellantis NV plant in Windsor is expected to have a workforce of around 2,500 when it reaches full production in 2025.
In an article this week by Fatima Syed in The Narwhal, she noted, “Volkswagen’s electric vehicle battery plant in St. Thomas may revive an old automotive town but to do so will require a long list of things including housing, transit, retraining programs for a burgeoning workforce and a lot of energy supply.”
In that same article, Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association said on workforce size, “Likely in the region of 5,000 people, it will be a challenge to recruit. We do, however, have three to four years.”
Meantime, PowerCo has announced the construction of a gigafactory near Valencia, Spain for sustainable battery production.
It will be located on a 320-acre site, employ over 3,000 workers and is expected to be in production in 2026.
According to The EV Report, “The factory will be powered entirely by green electricity, including solar and wind energy from nearby sources.”
Will that be the situation in St. Thomas?


The numbers released by Southwestern Public Health are a warning.
The rate of opioid-related harms has been on an upward trend in St. Thomas over the past several years.
In 2021, the rate of opioid-related St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital emergency department visits was 126.1 per 100,000 as compared to 114.0 per 100,000 province-wide.
That same year, the rate of opioid-related hospitalizations in St. Thomas was 72.4 per 100,000, far above the provincial average of 16.3 per 100,000.
That last figure has the health unit indicating “This would warrant further investigation to understand why St. Thomas residents appear to be at a higher risk of opioid-related hospitalizations.
Those in the 25-44 age bracket made up the majority of opioid-related harms since 2018.
And so the health unit is undertaking a study into the feasibility of drug treatment and consumption services in the region.
Council’s agenda last Monday (Sept. 13) included a report from the health unit seeking input from members as part of that study.

“I’m not sure I want to get to let’s try a new solution before we’ve actually had the old solution in place for more than a couple of days.”

And while councillors Gary Clarke and Jim Herbert stressed what the city is currently undertaking to deal with the opioid crisis is not working – as evident in the above stats – Mayor Joe Preston is hesitant to endorse a safe consumption site at this time.
Even though the average number of deaths from opioid overdoses increased to almost four per month across the region in 2021.
At Monday’s meeting, Preston observed, “We’ve been working exceptionally hard over the last three years or four years on rehab and detox, an actual cure for addiction.
“And we now have three beds open in St. Thomas, something we’ve worked really hard on, we wanted more.
“I’m not sure I want to get to let’s try a new solution before we’ve actually had the old solution in place for more than a couple of days.”

“Mine still continues to be to offer a solution that is a cure rather than offer a solution that is not.”

According to Don Trepanier, director at The Annex, an addictions resource centre affiliated with the Grace Cafe, the three-bed facility opened in January of this year in the Canadian Mental Health Association office at 110 Centre Street.
Preston wants to see the results of efforts already underway in the city, including the impact of two housing projects undertaken in partnership with Indwell which include addiction services on site.
The Indwell units in the Queen Street housing project will not open until late spring or early summer and so any conclusive evidence of impact on those residents is some distance down the road.
“I would like us to work with Addictions Ontario and Canadian Mental Health on that one,” stressed Preston, “to ensure we’ve seen whether there’s results from detox, rehab and crisis mental health beds to go along with what might happen in a consumption site.”
He added, “Mine still continues to be to offer a solution that is a cure rather than offer a solution that is not.
“And ensuring that if we’re offering safe consumption sites that they involve nursing staff on site that is related to rehab and detox as a curative nature.”
A continuing reluctance on the part of Preston to acknowledge harm reduction.
And what about the members of council who uttered nary a word during the discussion?
Perhaps the reality is uncomfortable, and if that is the case then it is time to venture beyond your comfort zone.

Related post:

St. Thomas/Central Elgin boundary adjustment: ‘Trust is a big part of working together. And in the last six months or so it has been eroded to some degree.’


A couple of weeks ago we posted an item about city resident Kay Vaughan requesting council allow the raising of chickens in backyards.
As it turns out, Chatham-Kent is considering this option as well and has launched an anonymous survey for input from residents.
The results will be presented to council in May in addition to recommendations from staff.
At a meeting in February, several deputations appeared before council promoting the upside of backyard chickens, including food security.
Let’s see whether St. Thomas council solicits public input as it has on many other issues.

Related post:

St. Thomas Police Service strategic plan 2023-2026: ‘The police alone cannot solve the problem of crime and social disorder.”


Responding to last week’s item on St. Thomas/Central Elgin boundary adjustment, Dave Mathers had this observation.

“The good news here you ask? Now we have two business people working on this and it is safe to say that they both can see the BIG picture, unlike some previous defeated candidates.”

On the same topic, C Lynn Smitty had these thoughts on Mayor Joe Preston’s legacy elsewhere in the county.

“Well, not surprising. We’ve already seen Joe’s legacy by dumping a rusty tin can sub in Port Burwell and destroying a quaint and lovely little village with an enormous burden of maintenance, restoration of that sub and oh yes don’t forget the loan repayment for that tin can.
“A horrible decision just for another smiley photo op and attention just like this issue and many other issues in St.Thomas. Good on the county for bringing this issue to the limelight. I pray there is a way to make this right.”

And still with Mayor Preston, Mac McArthur challenged him on the farmland issue.

“Trust is something Preston has yet to learn and practice.
“When you have a rural Ontario mayor proposing that there is plenty of farmland in Ontario you really have to wonder about his competency on the issue. The idea of a legacy project rings true in this case.
“As well, the current MPP (Rob Flack) should be ashamed of himself for the lip service provided thus far.”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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