- London’s location provides an abundance of fresh water and raw materials to food processing manufacturers and proximity to Windsor-Detroit for automotive manufacturers.
- The Next Generation (NGen) supercluster is a catalyst for manufacturing companies to connect with technologies providers and to de-risk technology adoption, which will be increasingly important as Canada moves towards industry 4.0.
- London’s fastest growing area of the manufacturing sector is plant-based and artisanal food products.
Foreign investors should consider investing in London because of its competitive advantages in manufacturing. These include its strong and historied manufacturing ecosystem; a robust supply chain; abundant and affordable industrial land; access to top manufacturing and engineering talent; and finally, close proximity to the U.S. market.
Overview of London’s Manufacturing Industry
London does have a strong manufacturing sector. It has always been known as a bit of a manufacturing hub, dating back to about 100 years ago. There was a big automotive sector here with our proximity to Windsor-Detroit—automotive has always had a storied history here.
Now, you did mention food, and you are absolutely right, the food processing sector is probably the fastest growing subset within manufacturing here in London. One of the reasons is obviously our access to fresh water. London has access to one of the best fresh water supplies in the world, with a dual pipe system.
“The food processing sector is probably the fastest growing subset within manufacturing here in London.”
It is also kind of our location in the midst of the rural community, so we have access to all the raw materials that a lot of food processors will use. If you think of a Dr. Oetker pizza factory, they are taking fresh fruits and vegetables; a Labatt brewery is going to take a ton of fresh water—so that is kind of why we have that growing food processing sector.
One of the parts within food processing that is growing quickly is the natural products and artisanal products spaces. Companies like Nuts for Cheese for example, or Booch Organic Kombucha, these new healthy alternative type companies are growing quickly as well. We recently landed the Maple Leaf Foods investment and if you think of a Maple Leaf Foods or a Cargill, which is here producing chicken nuggets for McDonald’s across Canada, even these large traditionally meat packaging type plants, they are even creating alternatives as well.
London’s Advantages for Manufacturers
I think London is in a really unique space when it comes to foreign direct investment (FDI) and attracting investors, and there are a lot of different things for that. One is the existing cluster of manufacturers that already exist here and the robust supply chain. Foreign investors will see that and will see the success of international companies that have been successful here in London and they are more intrigued to do business here. We have a lot of German investment, for example.
London uniquely has this abundance of industrial land that is already shovel ready, large parcels, and that is because the city has actually been a little bit forward-thinking in the sense that the City of London purchases this land, it services it and it is ready to go—and the city sells it at a very affordable rate. I think that is another great reason why investors are attracted to London.
“London uniquely has this abundance of industrial land that is already shovel ready.”
Another one would be the access to the talents. London has Western and Fanshawe and a number of career colleges, and in these colleges, we have some really great programs in engineering. I think that access to talent is obviously a very important factor for consideration when companies are looking to invest overseas.
“Access to talent is obviously a very important factor for consideration when companies are looking to invest overseas.”
Our proximity to the US border is absolutely important. Obviously, a lot of these companies are doing business with countries outside of Canada, they want to be able to tap into these other markets, so that is super important as well.
COVID-19 Impacts on London’s Manufacturers
As the Southwestern Ontario chapter of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) we meet once a month and we have continued to meet virtually throughout this time and it has been really, really great to see that the companies for the most part have stayed steady and sales have stayed strong.
Obviously, some sectors are a little bit more resilient to economic downturn than others. If we think about food processing, for example, people always have to eat food, so a lot of the food processing companies either stayed steady, [and] some of them were even hiring and expanding. If you think of other companies that maybe sell a luxury consumer good, those companies would have been a little bit more impacted.
But where I was really impressed was to see what companies did to kind of stand up and to pivot their operations to be able to create new operation lines, to do essential gear, personal protective equipment (PPE), testing devices. There were so many different companies that kind of put their hands up from Bosco and Roxy’s, which started making bread, to a lot of these apparel type companies [that] were making PPE and masks. It was just really, really heartwarming to see the way that the manufacturing company banded together.
Government’s Support for Manufacturers Through COVID-19
If I think of the Southwestern Ontario chapter, for example, our group is basically comprised of a mixture of manufacturing company plant representatives as well as manufacturing supports. We have got representatives from the municipal, federal and provincial governments, a lot of them are managing some of these programs and I think I would like to just acknowledge the fact that I do not think those folks have ever worked harder. They are working longer hours than they have ever worked before because there has just been such an influx of different companies looking for what types of support they can take advantage of. Shout out to them.
I think that obviously, when you are facing a time like this and everyone is just kind of learning as we go, it can be challenging but I think the response time was really quick, and the goal was just to try and help companies. They came out with programs to try and get the funds into companies’ hands as quick as possible, and I know that companies of all sizes took advantage of these funding programs and a lot of the funding programs allowed companies to kind of stay in the game throughout this time. If they did see their sales drop, there was programing to help kind of cover the costs of employees up to 75%, for example. So personally, I have been pretty impressed with the government’s response.
The Next Generation Manufacturing (NGen) Supercluster’s Role in Growth the Ecosystem
We actually do have an NGen representative on our local chapter as well, so I am fairly familiar with the organization. I think that they will continue to play an evolving role, especially as industry 4.0 becomes more important. They are kind of, in my view, a catalyst that helps to kind of connect companies to different technology companies and help to de-risk that technology adoption.
“Canada is a little bit behind other countries when it comes to industry 4.0.”
Canada is a little bit behind other countries when it comes to industry 4.0, but obviously, even especially if we think of the last few months, companies have been forced to think ahead and become more technology focused. So, I do see NGen playing a growing role, especially as we continue to evolve. I think when it comes to foreign direct investment (FDI) for example, having a group like NGen helps us advocate for the reasons for investing here.
“Having a group like NGen helps us advocate for the reasons for investing here.”
If you are a brand-new company and you are looking at the Canadian market, NGen can help to kind of fund some of those technology processes that you might be considering implementing here.
Manufacturing Tech Development and Innovation
London has a growing technology sector not only in the manufacturing support side but just in traditional tech. We have companies that are doing a lot on the robotics side, actually helping come in and evaluate processes and create custom equipment, or they have standard equipment that they are already able to share.
We have a really growing sector in advanced materials. We have companies using composites, for example, Diamond Aircraft and Hudson Boat Works are two great companies that are growing quickly and using composite materials, so we see that. Even on the talent side, Fanshawe College has programing to help support those kinds of growth as well.
“There is a pretty robust sector of technology companies that are supporting the automotive side.”
Because of that automotive history, there is a pretty robust sector of technology companies that are supporting the automotive side. I want to say there is probably at least 2,000 if not more people employed just in automotive technology, which is kind of unique and that is a testament to the way that clusters start to form. What is already here is kind of what helps to dictate where things are going to go in the future not only on the talent side, in the programing at the schools, but in terms of what technologies are spinning out as well.
The Future of Manufacturing Talent
I am very passionate about the future of manufacturing talent. If I could just speak on behalf of the Southwestern Ontario chapter of CME, I know that one of our biggest conversations that we continue to revisit, and our entire mandate, quite frankly, is focused around promoting and supporting education in manufacturing.
“People make the assumption that it is a dirty and dying industry, which is absolutely not true.”
I do think that there is a bit of a misperception when it comes to manufacturing careers and people make the assumption that it is a dirty and dying industry, which is absolutely not true. There are fantastic career opportunities in manufacturing, engineering and the skilled trades—these are well-paid jobs. The plants of today are very technology oriented as we just discussed; there are great benefits, good salaries. I think that there really is that misperception that needs to be eradicated. Students need to recognize that these are the careers of the future and there [are] just fantastic job opportunities. I think that that really does start at the high school level or even before, and that manufacturing really does need to become a part of the conversation.