Canadian Manufacturing

Windsor set to lead green-energy surge

After Windsor's local economy was devastated by huge layoffs in the auto sector, the city has been trying to diversify its economy while maintaining its roots as one of Canada's best manufacturing cities.

WINDSOR—There has been some fairly consistent buzz surrounding Windsor’s efforts to establish itself as Canada’s capital for green-energy manufacturing.

After it’s local economy was devastated by huge layoffs in the auto sector, the city has been trying to diversify its economy while maintaining its roots as one of Canada’s best manufacturing cities.

“We realized green-energy was a great way for Windsor to diversify its economy,” says Rakesh Naidu, director of business attraction at Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC).

“The cyclical nature of the auto industry wouldn’t allow us to have a stable economy.”

Naidu says renewable energy showed great promise for Windsor, not only because of its climate, but also because of its proximity to the U.S.

Indeed, wind and solar farms don’t just pop up everywhere–those components need to be manufactured by someone.

“We have an extremely strong workforce with a manufacturing background and experience in the auto sector,” he says. “These wind turbines and solar modules require a significant number of parts and someone who knows how to put things together. This makes our market that much more attractive.”

It doesn’t hurt that the Ontario government has been pushing renewable energy investments and providing companies with healthy incentives for doing green-business.

Check out these photos of Windsors green manufacturing evolution:
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Some companies that have already set-up shop in Windsor include:

Siliken Canada
Siliken Canada Corp., a division of Valencia, Spain-based Siliken, has already started manufacturing solar modules at its 50,000 square-foot facility in Windsor.

The plant currently has 50 mega-watts of manufactured capacity and employs 50 people, says Paco Caudet, general manager at Siliken Canada. It’s expected to create 150 jobs by the end of 2011.

He says the Windsor plant expects to gradually work its way towards running four production lines by the end of 2011.

“Windsor has a lot going for it right now,” he says. “We went to a lot of municipalities, but Windsor proved best because it had the largest manufacturing knowledge and supplier base.”

WindTronics is producing its Honeywell wind turbines at a new 70,000 square-foot facility in Windsor.

The Michigan-based company took over an automotive plant and transformed it into a turbine manufacturing facility capable of pumping out a turbine every five minutes, or 2,000 a month, says WindTronics president, Reg Adams.

The plant currently employs 46 people, but that number is expected to jump to about 180 once the plant is fully operational.

“We’re in launch mode right now,” says Adams. “At this point, we want to make sure the vendors, the supply chain and production channels are all intact from a quality standpoint.”

Adams says the company chose Windsor because of its engineering and manufacturing workforce. He adds that the support from the Ontario government was also an incentive.

“Windsor has a government behind that supports green-energy,” he says. “Those policies are very forward thinking and I think they will continue to support growth and development there.”

OYA Solar
OYA Solar produces rooftop solar modules for commercial and residential purposes.

The company is a sister business of Polar Racking, another Windsor-based green-energy company that manufactures racking systems for solar modules. The company recently introduced a residential rooftop racking system and a new ground-mount system.

The Windsor market was a great opportunity to be at the leading edge of an industry in a place that wanted some economic diversification, says Manish Nayar, CEO at OYA.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of cross-market work and deal with a number of other local green-energy suppliers in Windsor,” he says. “We’ve attracted a number of partners in the supply chain, especially with module manufacturers.”

The company was the first to enter the Windsor market and is happy more companies are coming to the area, for supply chain reasons especially, he adds.

“We really liked the manufacturing base here,” he says. “There’s a lot of good potential in a workforce that has the right skill set to match the type of work we’re doing.”

Nayar says OYA has created about 20 jobs in the past two years and plans to add another 15-20 jobs over the next year and a half.

While only a handful of companies have been mentioned here, the amount of green-energy work going on in Windsor could help establish the city as Ontario’s green-manufacturing capital. And as growth continues, efforts there could be a huge win not only for a city desperate for economic restructuring, but also for a province looking to pave Canada’s road towards greener energy.

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