Toronto Community Benefits Network eyes new automotive jobs in St Thomas

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By Lincoln DePradine

Chris Campbell

Several billion dollars will be spent in a public/private partnership, that will create thousands of jobs in construction, and also in establishing an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in St Thomas, Ontario.

Diversity advocates, including representatives of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), are eyeing job opportunities that may open up in St Thomas for traditionally marginalized groups, such as women and members of the Black and Caribbean community.

The setting up of the plant, which has the backing of the federal and Ontario governments, is a project of Volkswagen, Europe’s largest automaker.

The $7 billion project will be Volkswagen’s first overseas electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant.

Construction of the plant is expected to begin next year and completed in 2027. It will create up to 3,000 direct jobs and up to 30,000 indirect jobs.

The Ontario government of Premier Doug Ford says that to “strengthen and grow’’ St. Thomas and the surrounding communities, the province will invest in important infrastructure projects across the region. The administration has promised investments to improve roads, highways, utility services, and police and fire services.

TCBN, which has been engaged in increasing the number of women and ethnic minorities in the skills trade and construction, has said that it’s not ruling out examining opportunities that may be available in the infrastructure investments planned for St Thomas.

“I can see that happening and becoming a community benefit priority,’’ said TCBN chair Chris Campbell, who also is vice president of the Carpenters’ Union (Local 27).

Rosemarie Powell, TCBN’s executive director, added that once there is a community group in St Thomas that’s interested in the construction work, “we would help to support; depending on the scope of it, we would even take on a stringer leadership role’’.

In August 2022, the Canadian government signed a memorandum of understanding with Volkswagen to advance cooperation on electric vehicle battery manufacturing in Canada.

“When we talk about our made-in-Canada plan, we’re talking about creating good, middle-class jobs now and into the future; we’re talking about clean air for our kids and grandkids, and we’re talking about a strong economy that works for all Canadians. That’s what Volkswagen’s new electric vehicle battery plant in St Thomas – the largest manufacturing plant in the country once built – is all about. It’s a win for workers, for the community, and for the economy,’’ said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Volkswagen Group is one of the world’s largest automakers with a portfolio of 10 companies. The St Thomas battery manufacturing facility – the entire industrial and supplier park – will be 1,500 acres.

Canada’s automotive sector supports more than 500,000 workers, including nearly 100,000 auto plant workers in Ontario. It contributes $16 billion annually to Canada’s gross domestic product, and is one of the country’s largest export industries.

Ontario is the only place in North America where five major automakers build their vehicles, including Honda, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.

The Volkswagen project, according to federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, is “a true testament to our highly skilled workforce and Canada’s strong and growing battery ecosystem’’; and, it’ also “a vote of confidence in Canada as the green supplier of choice to the world. Our government looks forward to working together toward a cleaner, more sustainable and resilient economy’’.

LJI reporter