Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

“They say there are only two types of people on St. Patricks Day: the Irish, and the people that drive them home” — Conan OBrien

VW makes it official: St. Thomas lands coveted electric vehicle battery plant

After months of speculation and courtship, it’s finally official: the Volkswagen Group has chosen St. Thomas for its first EV battery factory outside of Europe. The announcement came on Monday and makes VW the first European automaker to invest in Canadian manufacturing operations ― another major boost in efforts to establish Canada, and in particular the Southern Ontario region, as a major player in the EV manufacturing sector (the VW plant joins the Stellantis-LG Energy Solution joint venture EV battery plant under construction in Windsor). “We are are over the moon. We put a lot of work into this, long days and nights for my team. It is huge. We are incredibly excited,” St. Thomas economic development CEO Sean Dyke said. “It is the ideal investment for this community. VW has been amazing to work with. We are excited to have them here.” With shovels hitting the ground almost immediately on the two-million-square-foot facility, production is expected to begin in 2027.


The upshot: The announcement is being heralded as an obvious win for jobs and growth in the area (which it certainly is) and suggests that governmental efforts to woo VW — from subsidies and land acquisitions to beating out U.S. interests fiercely competing for Volkswagen’s attention — paid off. But how much wooing are we talking about? What we don’t know yet are the terms of the deal, including how much is being kicked in from the public coffers — a figure that the federal government won’t reveal just yet, but which is thought to be significant. Speculation based on comments made by VW in European media outlets is that this sum is potentially as high as $15 billion over 10 years.

Read more: The Globe and Mail | London Free Press

Everyone wants a piece of our labour force

The announcement of the planned VW plant — and the 2,000-plus jobs that need filling — has labour experts in the city looking ahead to the challenge of actually staffing the place. London’s unemployment is at an all-time low, and the labour market is seeing more competition for workers than it has grown used to over the past couple decades. Solving it won’t be easy. “We have a lot of work to do. It will be challenging,” Paul Hubert, head of Pathways Employment Help Centre told the Free Press. “We have four years, so we better giddyup and get on it.” It might get a little harder, too: this week, the famous “Alberta is Calling” relocation campaign began casting a wider net, trying to lure away workers from Southwestern Ontario and the Maritimes (keep an eye out for the billboards).


The upshot: If these challenges weren’t enough, you can add yet another report this week that pointed to “record levels” of outmigration among young people from Ontario that analysts credit to stagnant wages, high costs and a lack of progress on housing affordability. It’s certainly a quagmire and suggests that competing even harder for talent will be the new normal for regional employers. Still, jobs are jobs, and VW is a major manufacturer capable of paying competitive, livable wages. As a result, Hubert is happy about the major employers coming to the region. “I am not going to pour cold water on this,” he told the Free Press. “Remember 2008 to 2011 where there was a net migration of jobs? Maybe this is the reinvention of the region and the reinvention of our workforce is part of that.”

Read more: London Free Press | CBC

Zellers to open at White Oaks this month

Earlier in the year we covered the announcement of a revival of the Zellers brand, which is being brought back as a store-within-a-store at existing Hudson’s Bay location. Shoppers can now start their planning, because London’s Zellers will be open this month as part of the first wave of the Zellers Renaissance. Our Zellers, which will occupy between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet of floor space at the White Oaks Mall Bay store, will open March 23, and the company says shoppers will have a wide selection, “including kitchen and bath, accent furniture and home decor, organization and storage, baby and kids toys and apparel pets, and apparel basics for men and women.” Shoppers will also be able to shop online.


The upshot: When the Zellers announcement was first made earlier in the year, many had one burning question: what about the Zellers restaurant? Well, the other bit of good news is that it appears to be making a bit of a return, too. In the days following the official opening, the Zellers Diner on Wheels will be making an appearance, selling “five classic menu items from the old in-store restaurants.” 

Read more: CTV London | Blackburn News



Maybe Your Advertising Needs a Bigger Idea, Not a Bigger Budget


From the magazine: Steady as she goes

Launched in 2018 and named for the Forest City, at the five-year mark 4EST Brewery remains a side hustle brewing company that keeps its focus firmly on craft and city. 

Read more: London Inc.

Indiva pauses production on so-called edible extracts

London’s Indiva announced this week that they had halted production of a line of THC lozenges that technically exceeded per-package THC limits. Those products have recently caught the attention of Health Canada, who began issuing public warnings to producers like Indiva who were using a loophole in the classification system to produce packages of “edible extracts” with 100mg, 250mg and 500mg total THC ― more than the 10mg allowed under the edibles category. “Currently, the company has paused production of the products as it consults with its advisors and considers next steps and a potential resolution of this matter. The company may choose to continue manufacturing the products in alternative packaging formats,” the company said.


The upshot: The issue of these so-called edible extracts products ― a product category that takes advantage of different packaging limits on THC for extracts (like oils and gel caps) versus edibles ― has been a hot one in the cannabis industry of late. Essentially, producers figured out that they could produce extract products that used certain sweetening agents that were not covered by the regulations governing edibles, making something that tasted like an edible but was classified as an extract. Small numbers of these edible extract products had quietly been on the market for nearly two years without much notice, but as more producers started copying this strategy it piqued the attention of the regulator. Indiva is one of five cannabis producers who have been ordered to halt production of these items. 

Read more: The Growthop | StratCann

Oxford-Highbury corridor heats up with development plans

It’s no secret that London’s highrise boom is spreading out across the city, and one of the hot spots to watch will be the Oxford and Highbury corridor. This week, city planners heard a proposal for an 18-storey, 187-unit at 625 Mornington Avenue from Westdell Development. That’s in addition to the 10-storey tower proposed by Si-vik Planning in November, and the megaproject by Old Oak sitting in the wings that will see the former London Psychiatric Hospital site converted into a housing project with seven towers and hundreds of homes.


The upshot: More housing, in neighbourhoods that are ripe for densification, located near a major educational institution, on the future rapid transit line — it is pretty much a textbook case of smart urban planning. The next hurdle ― as it has been for a handful of infill projects around town ― is getting the neighbours on board (Westdell has applied for change in zoning to allow high-density residential in the mostly commercial area). “For some, it is a shock,” Councillor Susan Stevenson told the Free Press, speaking about resident pushback, which she is expecting to get from single-family homeowners. “We need housing now and this checks a lot of boxes. The vacancy rate is so low; our population has grown 10 per cent in the last five years and will grow the same the next five,” added Jared Zaifman of the London Home Builders’ Association. 

Read more: London Free Press

Dispatch: March 17, 2023

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

View listings here

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