St. Thomas sets up 800-acre ‘mega-site,’ eyes EV parts plant
Discussion grows of another automotive electric-vehicle battery manufacturing plant landing in Ontario
St. Thomas just may have taken the lead in the provincewide race to land a massive new automotive EV battery plant, industry observers say.
The city has assembled 800 acres (320 hectares) of land, a “mega-site” to be used to woo new industry, just as discussion grows of another automotive EV battery manufacturing plant landing in Ontario.
“This puts them at the head of the pack right now,” said Flavio Volpe, chief executive of the Auto Parts Manufacturers’ Association, representing the industry.
“One of the most important things in chasing one of these investments is land assembly, being close to multi-modal access (highways, rail and airports) and labour. St. Thomas has all of that.”
The city and its economic development office have assembled the land in the city’s northeast as it looks to cash in on growing demand for manufacturing space across Ontario.
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The land is mostly bounded by Highbury Avenue South, Edgeware Line, Yarmouth Centre Road and Ron McNeil Line. There is about 120 hectares, south of Edgeware Line.
“I am glad St. Thomas has bought a ticket to the dance,” Volpe said.
The City of St. Thomas will use the land assembly in a pitch to the Ontario government and its Economic Development Ministry as a site for a new automotive EV battery plant, but the city is open to any large-scale industrial investor, said Sean Dyke, chief executive of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corp.
“If you look across Ontario, there is a general shortage of quality industrial land and we have to say, ‘We are open to business. We are ready,’” he said.
“We will be definitely looking to pursue an investment in the EV sector. It is grown at such a rapid pace we would be crazy not to.”
Dyke said he’s been assembling the land since early in the year. The assembled land is undergoing environmental assessments but Dyke said he has “firm deals with all the landowners.”
He declined to reveal the cost of assembling the land.
Earlier this year, Stellantis and South Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution announced it is building Canada’s first large-scale vehicle electric battery plant in Windsor, a $5-billion investment that will employ about 2,500 with full production expected by 2025. The 420,000-square-metre plant will be located on more than 80 hectares of land.
In April, Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s economic development minister, said the Ontario government is in talks with several electric vehicle battery manufacturers to open another plant in this province, as automakers partner with battery makers to assemble electric vehicles.
Ford of Canada announced it will assemble five electric vehicles at its Oakville assembly plant by 2025, and there have been reports it is looking to build an EV battery plant in Ontario with a Chinese industry partner.
“We will be looking for a large, significant investment, not to parcel it off,” Dyke said.
“I think the EV sector is a natural fit for this area and we have had a lot of conversations with EV suppliers, but a mega-site like this could accommodate any investor looking across North America.”
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston said assembling more land for industrial growth was “very important” to the city and he expects the site to get the attention of manufacturers.
“We call it smart growth. Accumulating industrial land for major employers was very important to us. It is not an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing,” he said.
“We are open for business. We are ready for business.”
Even if an automotive battery EV plant is not in St. Thomas’s future, there is strong demand for new manufacturers in the EV sector and land is scarce, positioning St. Thomas to compete for investment, said Brendan Sweeney, director of the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing.
“St. Thomas has the workforce, highway system, rail line and even a university nearby. With land being scarce this makes a lot of sense,” he said.
“It signals to everyone: ‘Let’s go get a plant.’”
There are several parts that make up battery assembly such as cathodes and anodes that could also land in St. Thomas. The nearby Formet plant is manufacturing metal casings for Ford EV battery production.
“This means there is one less hurdle, one less barrier,” for an automaker looking to build, Sweeney said.
As for nearby London, it always is looking to assemble land for different uses, but if St. Thomas lands a major investment, it is a win for the region, said Kapil Lakhotia, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp.
“This is fantastic news for our region. I am glad there is more industrial land being developed that will get the area on the radar for future investment,” he said.
But the LEDC head would not say if it is assembling a large parcel of land for an EV plant.
“London has had a land development strategy for years. We are constantly assembling new sites. We have several projects in the EV supply chain that are in various stages of due diligence.”
Volpe recalled when the St. Thomas area struggled with the closing of the Ford assembly plant in Talbotville in nearby Southwold Township in 2011 and the Sterling truck plant in 2009, cutting thousands of manufacturing jobs.
“I like St. Thomas’s story. Everyone loves a comeback and 2008 to 2010 was not kind to this community that has an incredible manufacturing history,” he said.
“It would be great to see another major auto investment in a town with a past.”