Windsor an 'epicentre' of manufacturing in Canada: report

A new report says the country's auto industry is becoming increasingly concentrated in southern Ontario, with Windsor and Essex County emerging as the epicentre.

McMaster study said Windsor added more than 4,000 auto industry jobs over past five years

Steve Vince works on a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica on the assembly line at the Windsor Assembly Plant. (Carlos Osorio/Canadian Press/AP)

A new report calls the FCA Canada Windsor Assembly Plant the largest manufacturing workplace in the country.

With 6,000 workers, the plant has jumped ahead of Fort McMurray employers Suncor and Syncrude, according to the Automotive Policy Research Centre at McMaster University.

The study looked at the growth and stability of both the overall Canadian vehicle production and auto industry employment over the past five years. 

"The Windsor minivan plant [is] not just the biggest plant in Canada, but one of the bigger plants in North America," said report author Brendan Sweeney.

Brendan Sweeney of McMaster University is the author of "A Profile of Canada's Automotive Manufacturing Industry, 2012-2016" (CBC)

The size and relative strength of the FCA plant bode well for the overall economy in Windsor-Essex, according to Sweeney.

"The spin-off effects and the multiplier impacts are absolutely massive and you could go through a roster of additional nearby facilities in Windsor that exist to supply that place," he said. "I think the investments in Windsor, those are for the long-term."

While quick to add the growth has not been astronomical, Sweeney said Windsor added more than 4,000 jobs connected with auto manufacturing, going from 14,000 in 2012 to 18,000 in 2016.

The Hamilton researcher pointed out this increase is a marked contrast from declines in the early 2000s. 

"There was a lot of job loss, there was a lot of plant closures, there were a lot of people impacted," said Sweeney.

'Positive' for Windsor

Windsor-based auto analyst Tony Faria echoed Sweeney's bullish outlook on the industry. Faria said a growing population and ongoing improvements to vehicles are reasons for consumers to keep buying.

Auto analyst Tony Faria is bullish on the industry for Windsor. (Havard Gould/CBC)

"The auto industry [is] hitting its peak in terms of new vehicle sales in the last three years," said Faria. "Clearly that means we have to build more vehicles and, as well, that means a lot more parts going into those vehicles."

Continued demand for auto parts provides economic benefit for all of southern Ontario, according to Faria.

The McMaster report also pointed out consumer choices have shifted towards light-duty trucks, such as SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. Those require more parts and additional workers to assemble them. 

A worker assembles a Chrysler Pacifica in Windsor. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"We're still building cars, but we're building fewer cars," said Sweeney. "A good example is the Chrysler Pacifica."

Sweeney pointed out that a minivan such as the Pacifica needs more parts due to additional features, and added that Canada has become a leader in the assembly of small- and medium-sized SUVs.