Study says Niagara’s emerging economic future is green and marine

Study says Niagara’s emerging economic future is green and marine

Original Post by Bill Sawchuk, Standard Reporter

Consultant’s report by Deloitte says Niagara needs more investment in emerging sectors such as electric vehicle battery manufacturing and the marine industry, but the opportunities are there.

A multi-part consultant’s report on Niagara’s emerging economic sectors has identified electric vehicle battery manufacturing and the marine industry as two of the most promising.

George Spezza, the Region’s economic development director, said a commitment to attract companies and foster emerging sectors is integral to the Region’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy.

“I think one thing the pandemic has taught us is the more diversified our economy is, the better our position will be moving forward and weathering some of these storms that come our way unexpectedly,” Spezza said.

The Region retained consultants from Deloitte LLP to analyze each emerging sector, and the research includes individual Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) reports for all six.

“We identified these sectors for a reason,” Spezza said. “Our next step was to do the analysis, which Deloitte has concluded. The opportunity to do that analysis will lend even more credibility to the economic development team here.”

The report is intended to help team members devise successful strategies for growth based on Niagara’s advantages over competing regions.

Deloitte representatives delivered the analysis through a series of sector reports, some more than 30 pages long, Wednesday to the planning and economic development committee chaired by Pelham Coun. Diana Huson.

“Looking at each of these six emerging sections, we see marine as having the strongest potential in the Niagara due to the access to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Welland Canal, which you all know about,” said Paul Blais, a managing director, economic adviser with Deloitte.

“Obviously, the key will be the ability to build on the region’s existing assets and diversify into new areas of technology.”

Heddle Shipyards’ Port Weller Dry Docks is one of the extisting assets and is going full-speed ahead on a $135.5-million contract awarded last year to extend the life of Canadian Coast Guard Ship Terry Fox.

The report said newly digitization technology for ship operations including robotics, automated tools, sensors, and the “internet of things” all have potential.

Blais said Niagara’s advantages in the electric vehicle sector are fourfold:

  • High potential subsectors in battery production and automotive textiles;
  • Access to major markets through road, rail, air and water;
  • The opportunity for significant investments and government support for the sector;
  • An already-established Foreign Trade Zone giving companies faster-track access to federal and provincial programs supporting export development efforts.

“Out of the six sectors, the electric vehicle sector is massive right now,” Blais said. “There’s been incredible recent investment across the province. Niagara has new opportunities in ‘green’ auto manufacturing and a supply chain for the large active manufacturers in the sector.

Spezza said his department has been receiving electric vehicle battery inquiries, but missed shortlist opportunities due to a lack of serviced sites that are “investment ready.”

Aerospace was added as an emerging sector for Niagara with opportunities, including drone testing for established industries such as agriculture and marine.

While aerospace industry already has a footprint with Airbus Helicopters, Fleet Canada and Genaire Ltd., the report said investments are needed in airports, education, and training.

In health care and life sciences, Niagara is in an early stage of development, but there is potential despite competitors already having well-established “clusters” in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area.

“There’s some building to do in this area,” said Sarah Lewis, an economic adviser with Deloitte. “Niagara is relatively distant from the life sciences corridor running from Hamilton to Quebec City, so improving transportation linkages will help.”

Blais said the recent Canada Summer Games is a catalyst for the active economy/sports tourism sector and Niagara’s advantages include a well-established tourism sector (attracting about 13 million visitors annually) as well as experience hosting large-scale national and international sporting events.

In terms of film shoots, the region is already in demand, but the sector needs increased support, such as the new film office in St. Catharines, which promotes the city as a destination for film, TV, and streaming industries.

The accompanying in-house staff report suggested councillors review the economic development department’s current service delivery framework and consider adding sector specialists, who speak the language of industry decision-makers.

“I can report that we will have received some funding over the next two years to move the needle and bring into play an electric vehicle mobility specialist who will help in this particular sector because the time is now,” Spezza said. “There is a massive transformation underway in the automotive industry with media reports daily about significant investments made by local and international companies.

“We want to be on the receiving end of some of those investments, and we need to be at the table and putting our best foot forward,” he said.

Lincoln Coun. Rob Foster said businesses in Niagara are having trouble filling positions, especially employees with advanced skill sets and training.

“We need to make an all-out push in this area,” Foster said. “The resources are not there, and the people we need to do these things and make the big changes aren’t there. This has to be part of our strategy, and we’re going to have to think about how we’re going to do this.”

There was some good news on the training front last week. The province will spend $3.7 million to train 300 shipyard workers, apprentices, and jobseekers at Heddle shipyards in Port Weller and Hamilton as part of the Ontario Shipyard Modernization Project.

Port Colborne Coun. Fred Davies said he couldn’t overstate how critically important the report is for Niagara.

“Economic development can be an odd thing for people to wrap their heads around,” he said.

Davies told the committee about a conversation on social media with a constituent after a post about investing in tourism. The constituent said tax dollars should go toward infrastructure.

“I responded by saying what you’re referring to is exactly what we talk about in economic development,” Davies said. “We invest in strategic advantages in our communities and develop assets because they have a spinoff. The economic impact creates new businesses and jobs for people who move into the community.

“Unless we grow our assessment base and create those jobs and businesses, we will never have the money to invest in infrastructure.”

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