It’s been many decades since St. Thomas could hoist the banner, Railway Capital of Canada. Before the end of the decade, however, could the city become the EV Battery Capital of Canada?
The numbers bandied about Friday (April 21) sure point in that direction.
Hosted appropriately enough at the Elgin County Railway Museum, politicians from all levels of government plus officials from Volkswagen and its battery operation, PowerCo, along with city staff were on hand to provide further details on the gigafactory to be located in the new industrial park on the eastern limits of the city.
Technically the EV battery announcement was made last month at city hall, yesterday’s event was an opportunity to fill in the many blanks in order to shed more light on just how massive this facility will be, not to mention the financial gigaincentives dangled by the feds and the province.
In his address to the gathering, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called St. Thomas the place to build the future together.
And he wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room.
Trudeau admits the government had to put some money on the table to convince Volkswagen to choose St. Thomas as the site of its new massive plant.
That some money is $13 billion in subsidies to entice Volkswagen to this country.
There is a proviso, however.
While Canada has pledged 13 billion dollars in subsidies to Volkswagen to secure the deal, the automaker will have to meet 200 billion dollars in output to secure the full deal.
Trudeau pointed out the gigafactory will create up to 3,000 direct jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs and will eventually surpass any government investment.
“So yes, we put up a lot of money, money that is going to come back in investments in economic activity very quickly.”
“Let’s be really clear about what’s happening here today,” stressed Trudeau. “Other parts of the world, including our neighbours to the south, were willing to put up an awful lot of money to get this project.”
Reportedly the U.S. bid was in the neighbourhood of $15 billion.
Trudeau continued, “One of the three gigafactories that Volkswagen is making for batteries to build the future around the world, the first site outside of Europe, to build the future of automotive excellence, everyone wanted this.
“So yes, we put up a lot of money, money that is going to come back in investments in economic activity very quickly.
“But that wasn’t what put this project and St. Thomas over the top.
“For all the great work the suits around me did, the reason we are here is because of them. It’s because of the workers and the citizens of St. Thomas.
“What we are building here is more than just a gigafactory to make batteries that will help run the world’s cars in the coming decades.
“It’s an understanding the future is going to be strong and bright for people in St. Thomas and right across the country.”
Trudeau on several occasions referenced the hard-working people of St. Thomas and the city’s history with manufacturing.
“So, if we are here today, it is because of the people of St. Thomas and the workers of Ontario and the workers right across this country that have shown Volkswagen and other investors from around the world that this is the place to build the future together.
“Have you ever gone by one of those massive Amazon warehouses, they’re about a million square feet. Multiply that by 16 times, that’s how big this is going to be.”
Let’s take a look at some of those numbers.
The plant will occupy a footprint the size of 210 football fields.
When completed, pointed out Premier Doug Ford, it will be clearly visible from outer space.
The facility will contribute over 200 billion dollars to Canada’s economy in the next decade.
Premier Ford referred to the investment as the largest in Canada’s history.
The province says Volkswagen will invest seven billion dollars in the St. Thomas plant.
Groundbreaking for the plant is planned for 2024 and production is expected to begin by 2027.
Premier Ford tried his best to indicate how big the plant will be along with the size of the new industrial park.
“Have you ever gone by one of those massive Amazon warehouses, they’re about a million square feet.
“Multiply that by 16 times, that’s how big this is going to be.
“And, it will anchor a brand-new, 1,500-acre industrial park . . . it will be one of the largest industrial parks in all of North America and it will be right here in St. Thomas.”
“I want to thank those who stuck by us in that time. They stood with us in this community and they promoted it to their friends and contacts to say St. Thomas is the place to be.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio called the investment a “really bright day for the community.”
She continued, “This is absolutely huge for this city. It’s huge when it comes to employment, the opportunities for families to remain here and get jobs and good homes and all of those good things.
“It is a really bright day for our community, it absolutely is.”
Sean Dyke, CEO of St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. opened his remarks by flashing back in time.
“Fifteen years ago, many of this media was in St. Thomas covering what was the great recession of 2008 and 2009 when we lost over 5,000 manufacturing jobs in this community.
“Since then, we have this amazing, thriving business community that has brought us back to the forefront and has made St. Thomas something we can all be proud of.
“So, I want to thank them. I want to thank those who stuck by us in that time. They stood with us in this community and they promoted it to their friends and contacts to say St. Thomas is the place to be.
“And, that’s how we got to where we are today.”
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston praised the efforts of city staff to bring the deal across the finish line.
“None of this could have happened if we didn’t also have the vision that council put forward about the growth of St. Thomas and certainly in the job sector.
“And this is how we started down this path and a lot more conversation with the premier and Minister (Vic) Fedeli on how big can this be and who can we find?
“We found some great friends in Volkswagen and PowerCo and we are outstandingly proud of what the staff here in St. Thomas has done, led by our Economic Development Corporation.
“But there wasn’t a director at city hall that didn’t have a great deal of work on the side of their desk that had to do with this project and yet still kept the city running and we’re really proud of what they’ve been able to do.”
The deal with Volkswagen is being hailed as a big win by some industry members.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association, says people should focus more on the automaker’s output goal instead of Canada’s promised subsidy amount.
Volpe noted the St. Thomas site leaves room for more potential investment from Volkswagen, which is another positive.
My thanks to fellow myFM newsy Kennedy Freeman for her outstanding contribution to this item.
The competition was ‘intense’ however St. Thomas wins the bidding war for Volkswagen EV battery plant
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GRANT APPROVALS FOR PROJECT TINY HOPE
Another step forward for Project Tiny Hope.
At the April 11 meeting, council approved a pair of grant applications from the YWCA for its tiny homes project at 21 Kains Street.
The proposal is to create 40 new affordable housing rental units in the form of tiny homes, ranging from 1, 2 and 3-bedroom units.
The YWCA will own and operate the property as affordable and supportive housing for youth, adults and families. The total estimated value of the project is $14,700,000.
The project has been approved for the following:
• A Residential Grant equal to 50% of the cost of renovating existing or constructing new residential units, to a maximum grant of $12,500 per unit (total grant for this project will be $100,000). The increase in the maximum amount is due to the units falling under the definition of “affordable.”
• A Planning and Building Fees Grant equal to 100% of planning application, building permit, and other types of fees paid for a project approved and completed under any of the other incentive programs contained in this Community Improvement Project. The maximum total grant available under this program is $5,000 per project/property.
The grant funds will be released upon the successful completion of the project.
At this point, Lindsay Rice and the YWCA await confirmation of federal funding, with provincial and local dollars already in place and a fundraising campaign underway.
Details on the latter can be found at https://ywcaste.ca/project-tiny-hope/
The 40 housing units in Project Tiny Hope ‘will make a significant difference in our community however there is much more work to be done’
Project Tiny Hope: ‘More than just housing, it’s a new beginning’
JOHN STREET IS HEADED SOUTH
Sometime soon, city motorists will be able to do something they haven’t legally been allowed to undertake in about 70 years.
Once signage is in place you will be able to drive south on John Street.
Since the 1950s, it has been a one-way road northbound.
However, with Phase 3 of Talbot Street reconstruction underway, John Street will require a conversion to two-way traffic for property access during the work.
At the April 17 meeting, council approved a motion to make the move permanent, although in the future council could revert to one-way operation if required.
A left turn restriction will be in place at John and Talbot streets because of restricted visibility.
WILL THE BACKYARD CHICKEN PROJECT GET OFF THE GROUND?
A potential body blow for the city’s backyard chicken pilot project may have been delivered via Toronto city staff.
They are recommending that the city’s UrbanHensTO pilot project be indefinitely paused due to the rising number of avian flu cases in the province.
The Toronto project was launched in 2018 after considerable debate and allowed up to four hens to be kept in designated areas of the city.
Around 80 households were participating in the project and they would be allowed to keep their existing hens should the pause be approved by city council.
And then, no doubt, further lengthy debate on whether the pilot project will ever be resumed.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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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.
When the PM and Premier were in town, it would have been nice if they also stopped to look at the plans and property for the YWCA’s Project Tiny Hope. Multi-government cooperation and innovative thinking like this also needs to be noticed and applauded.
pe that we can now afford to improve conditions to meet the steadily increasing traffic conditions by extending the highway No. 3 route beyond Centennial Ave. I cannot believe that the Ontario Government has totally cancelled this project. It will be needed now more than ever.