New G.E. Jobs Brighten Niagara`s Outlook
Local economic offices work together to bring game-changing employer to the region.
By Scott Leslie
The Niagara economy finally got some good news last month―in spades.
The General Electric Company (G.E.) recently announced that it will be establishing a new $265-million U.S. manufacturing plant in Welland. Scheduled to begin production in early 2018, the new G.E. facility will produce large reciprocating gas engines as well as components for compression, mechanical drive, and power generation. The factory will also manufacture components for G.E. transportation diesel engines.
The G.E. plant will be built on a 75-acre parcel of land located between Buchner Road and
Silverthorn Street, west of Highway 140. Construction on the new 450,000 square feet development and hiring for initial positions is expected to take place later this year.
Regional Municipality of Niagara Chair Alan Caslin says the news is a real cause for celebration in Niagara―and a long time coming.
“We have a long history of manufacturing in the Niagara Region,” Alan says, “and we`ve lost a lot of that to global competitors―so it`s great to see Niagara`s finally getting it back.”
G.E. is one of the world`s largest providers of engines, power equipment and services focused on power generation and gas compression.
As a result, the new G.E. development is expected to be a big shot in the arm for Niagara`s manufacturing sector which has been hard hit in recent years by plant closures and an unsettled economy. The construction and ongoing operation of the plant will inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the Niagara area.
According to early estimates, approximately two new supply chain jobs will be created in the Niagara community for every job created at the new facility. Graduates from post-secondary institutions like Brock University and Niagara College will also benefit greatly from the new job opportunities at G.E.
Although G.E. originally announced plans to hire 350 employees at the new Welland facility, that number was recently scaled back to 150 due to the current slowdown in the oil and gas industry. However, this is only the first phase. G.E. has pledged to continue adding to their labour force as more G.E. products are brought into production.
A Team Effort
In many ways, the new G.E. deal was the result of a perfect storm. Last fall, G.E. had announced plans to close its factory in Waukesha, Wisconsin and move their operation after the U.S. Congress decided to stop funding the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which finances the sale of industrial equipment to overseas clients.
G.E. began looking at moving north of the border to take advantage of Export Development Canada`s export financing. G.E. initially considered several different communities in five provinces. However, Niagara wasn`t even on G.E.`s radar as a potential location until the company was approached by a team of economic development officers from Welland, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Port Colborne.
In subsequent meetings, G.E. executives were particularly impressed with the way the various Niagara municipalities were working together to attract their factory―rather than competing against one another.
“We were all able to pull together at a staff and political level,” Alan says of their team approach. “As long as the plant was in Niagara, it didn`t matter where it went. At the end of the day, we`re all going to benefit.”
When it came down to making a final decision on relocating their plant to Welland, G.E. was sold on a number of factors. For instance, Welland and the Niagara area has a large skilled workforce with experience in several manufacturing areas like precision machining, metal forming, hydraulics and power distribution. Location was another big selling point. With Welland`s close proximity to the international border, the new G.E. plant is within driving distance of 60% of the U.S. marketplace and 62% of Canada`s industrial heartland. Welland also has rail connections to much of the North American market, as well as access to the Great Lakes and the world through the Welland Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
And one of the biggest factors that sealed the deal was the Gateway Community Improvement Plan offered by the City of Welland and the Niagara Region which enabled G.E. to take advantage of millions of dollars in financial incentives.
A Spirit of Cooperation
In the past, Niagara`s municipalities have often been held back by internal wrangling and the desire to take a more passive stance when it comes to encouraging new investment.
More recently, however, the Niagara Region and the area`s 12 cities and towns have been more aggressive in their attempts to attract new business. They`ve also been working together on common issues like merging the St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls transit systems, and the need to expand GO Transit service to Niagara―initiatives that will have a significant impact on the local economy moving forward.
Alan says it`s a new spirit of cooperation that bodes well for the future of Niagara.
“We`re working on a lot of things at the regional level,” he says, “and when we all pull in the same direction, we all benefit. It makes a lot of sense―and everybody knows that.” BL