St. Thomas, Ont. officials ‘over the moon’ for Volkswagen battery factory

Left to right, Oliver Blume, CEO Volkswagen Group; Thomas Schmall, Group Board Member Technology and Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announce a new EV battery manufacturing facility for St. Thomas, Ont. Volkswagen

Political leaders in St. Thomas, Ont., say they were sitting on “pins and needles” waiting for a possible announcement from Volkswagen on whether the area would be selected for a new electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing facility.

On Monday at noon, they got their answer.

The European automaker announced St. Thomas would be the location of its first “gigafactory” for battery cell manufacturing in North America. PowerCo SE, the battery division of Volkswagen Group, is expected to begin production in the to-be-built facility in 2027.

St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston says the major announcement is welcome news.

“High tech industry coming to St. Thomas, Ont., we can’t do better than this,” Preston told Global News soon after the announcement.

“This is the biggest they build, employing the most they can in the city of St. Thomas for decades to come.”

Story continues below advertisement

Rob Flack, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, told Global News he and the province were “over the moon” following Volkswagen’s confirmation.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“It’s a historic investment from Volkswagen,” said Flack. “The tertiary jobs that will come from this… it’s going to be a gamechanger.”

While Preston only learned of the confirmation from Volkswagen at the same time as everybody else, he says the city has been working for a little over a year to secure enough land for its industrial park to house a factory the size Volkswagen plans to build.

The city announced last June it had purchased over 350 hectares of land in the northeast end of St. Thomas. The intent at the time of purchase was rumoured to be related to the area landing an EV battery plant.

“We were ready for the industry and jobs that are needed for our city to grow,” said Preston.

MPPs recently passed Bill 63, or the St. Thomas – Central Elgin Boundary Adjustment Act, 2023, which allowed St. Thomas to annex 600 hectares from the municipality of Central Elgin for what the province called an “investment-ready mega site.”

Story continues below advertisement

Bounded by Highbury Avenue South, Yarmouth Centre Road and Ron McNeil Line, clearing of the site has already begun.

Along with assisting in the additional land needed to secure the incoming plant, Flack said the provincial government had been in discussion with Volkswagen about bringing a factory to Ontario for just under a year.

Preston said the city entered the fold for negotiations months ago, with meetings ongoing until recently to secure the consequential factory.

Along with the appropriate land and surrounding industries, Flack said he believes a major reason Volkswagen selected St. Thomas as the first North American location for a gigafactory was the abundance of critical minerals in the northern part of Ontario.

“You can take those critical minerals from the north and bring them down here and add value to them,” said Flack. “Rather than the traditional way in Canada where we would export these resources, we’re keeping them in country, in province.”

In the announcement of the gigafactory, PowerCo SE noted the “local supply of raw materials and wide access to clean electricity” as some of the ideal conditions offered in the region.

While it was too early to estimate the number of people the gigafactory will employ once production gets underway, Preston said there would be “thousands” of jobs to be had between the clearing of land, construction, installation of equipment and the production inside the plant.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’ve just secured St. Thomas’s future for as far out as we can see,” Preston said.

“We’re over the hump of getting it, now we have to prepare for the operating.”

Sponsored content