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What locals say Honda’s historic $15B investment means for Alliston, Ont.

News of Honda’s historic $15-billion deal to construct its first comprehensive electric vehicle supply chain in Ontario is rousing local residents and officials about the potential boost to business and jobs in the area.

Honda Canada announced Thursday alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford that it will build four new manufacturing plants in Ontario, including an electric vehicle assembly plant and a standalone battery manufacturing plant at its current facilities in Alliston, Ont., a small community of 23,000 residents between Toronto and Barrie.

The Japanese company already employs 4,200 people in its existing Alliston facility, but statements from Honda and both the federal and provincial governments say the facility’s two new plants will produce up to 240,000 vehicles per year and create more than 1,000 “well-paying manufacturing jobs” once fully operational in 2028.

“The opportunities for the local residents are going to be absolutely staggeringly fantastic,” said Richard Norcross, mayor of New Tecumseth, which is comprised of the communities of Alliston and nearby Beeton and Tottenham.

Mayor Richard Norcross is pictured.
Richard Norcross, mayor of New Tecumseth, which is comprised of the communities of Alliston, Beeton and Tottenham, says the Alliston plant has created approximately eight ancillary jobs for each assembly line position. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC News)

He says Honda has been a pillar of the community since the first Accord rolled off the assembly line in 1986, and said substantial donations from the company have helped the local hospital make expansions and buy new equipment.

But it’s the future that excites Norcross most.

“We just secured great-paying jobs for probably the next four generations of people,” added Norcross, who expects knock-on effects for the community when Honda finishes the facility overhaul.

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Additional jobs created: Norcross

He says roughly eight ancillary jobs are created for every plant assembly position, a statistic shared by the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association.

Ancillary jobs include work in local restaurants, shops, retail outlets and supply companies, says Norcross, adding that since the announcement, he has received texts and phone calls from community and business leaders anticipating staff increases.

Lachlan McGurk, who owns a flower and chocolate shop in historic downtown Alliston and chair of Alliston’s business improvement association, shares that sentiment.

“All of those jobs spawn new jobs and new businesses to support the operations at Honda,” he says.

McGurk’s optimism is nevertheless guarded by some recent history.

Lachlan McGurk is pictured smiling.
Lachlan McGurk is the chair of the Alliston Business Improvement Association. (Yanick Lepage/CBC News)

In 2011, Ford shut down its plant in St. Thomas, a southwestern Ontario community, with thousands ultimately losing their jobs. 

Seven years later, GM announced it would shut its Oshawa Assembly Plant permanently, putting some 2,400 people out of work.

“This boost is a welcome one, but Alliston will never take Honda for granted.” 

Still, the investment is characterized by the Ford government as the largest in Canadian history, with one expert saying it is likely the largest in North American history as well.

“For comparison, Ford Motor Company did a massive investment in Kentucky and Tennessee two years ago … for $11 billion,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association.

The announcement Thursday includes $5 billion in government assistance, half from the feds through tax credits and half from Ontario in direct and indirect incentives.

White Honda CRVs are seen in a row along the production line at Honda Canada's facility in Alliston, Ont.
Honda Canada employs 4,200 people in its Alliston facility, but statements from Honda and both the federal and provincial governments say the new plants will produce up to 240,000 vehicles per year and create more than 1,000 “well-paying manufacturing jobs” once fully operational in 2028. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

It follows a series of announcements to build up the electric vehicle industry in Canada, including for a VW battery plant now under construction in St. Thomas, Ont. and a Stellantis battery plant in Windsor, Ont.

Mike McEachern, a former mayor of New Tecumseth and executive director of Focus, a local employment agency, is not worried about Alliston suffering the same fate as Oshawa or St. Thomas.

“You don’t have a great manufacturer in the community unless you have the labour force to support it,” said McEachern.

Infrastructure and housing needed: former mayor

But, he adds, the town will need to continue with infrastructure improvements and, like many municipalities in the province, is struggling with housing stock.

“We need to be able to house people as close to where they work as possible because it’s a better quality of life all around,” said McEachern.

Mike MacEachern is pictured smiling
Mike MacEachern is the director of Focus, an employment agency in Alliston, Ontario (Yanick Lepage/CBC News)

McGurk says Simcoe County, which includes New Tecumseth, is one of the fastest-growing in Ontario and the investment works in lock step with the planned growth for the area. 

But, he warns, some employers could see the Honda investment as a double-edged sword if population growth stalls and the car manufacturer monopolizes a lagging labour supply.

Local residents who spoke to CBC News after the announcement echoed the balance between the hope the new facilities bring to the town and the work needed to accommodate resulting growth.

“I hope the jobs it creates will be for people who are really struggling in this area,” said Margaret Ringland, who would like to see economic windfall from the new plants go towards social housing. 

“It’ll be good for the community,” said Anthony Osborne, a former Chrysler manufacturing employee who recently moved to Alliston.

“Any addition has got to help.”

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