London, Ont. business leaders ‘fully charged’ for St. Thomas Volkswagen battery plant

Volkswagen symbol. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jens Meyer.

Business leaders in the London, Ont., region are feeling fully charged following the news of an upcoming Volkswagen electric vehicle battery plant scheduled for construction in St. Thomas, set to bring thousands of jobs along with it.

The European automaker said on Monday that the Railway City will be home to its first-ever “gigafactory” for battery cell manufacturing in North America.

With the facility expected to be up and running by 2027, Kapil Lakhotia, president of the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), said that the benefits of such a deal will stretch far beyond St. Thomas borders.

“Economic impact of manufacturing, investments and other business opportunities are not confined to municipal boundaries,” he said. “The thousands of jobs that this project will create will be widespread throughout the London region.”

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Volkswagen to build EV battery plant in Ontario

Lakhotia said that the LEDC actually played a significant role in bringing Volkswagen to St. Thomas.

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“Investments of this caliber are regional, they have widespread economic benefits from an employment-based standpoint, supply chains, and a host of other multiplier effects,” he said. “The LEDC was delighted to play a key supporting role in our region winning this investment (and) we worked collaboratively with our partners in St. Thomas, at the province and the federal level, to put a united team effort to attract this investment to our region.”

The city announced last June it had purchased more than 350 hectares of land in the northeast end of St. Thomas.

Recently, MPPs passed Bill 63, also known as 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.”

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Clearing for the area, which is bounded by Highbury Avenue South, Yarmouth Centre Road and Ron McNeil Line, had already begun as of Tuesday.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of the St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce, told Global News that while there’s plenty of hope in the local business community, they will also need to face the challenge of both hiring and retaining workers for the jobs on the horizon.

“It’s that ability to really find either the right people for the job in the first place, or really to understand that there actually is a lot of tools out there to grow staff who were in certain roles to move into more prominent positions,” he said. “But that’s the biggest thing that we hear over and over again, and we can’t find people.”

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Report: Labour shortage costing Canada billions

Jenkins added that housing for incoming workers will be just as important in the coming years.

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“Housing is a tremendous issue that might sit on the periphery of employment, but only to the smallest extent,” he said. “We’re going to need the people with the skill set to build the houses, to get the employees and to get them to settle here. That’s not without challenges, but I mean, this is the greatest challenge in the basket of one that we can face optimistically and positively.”

— with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham and Marshall Healey

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