Honda Canada’s announcement of a $1.38-billion investment in its Alliston facility not only ensures the future of the jobs at Simcoe County’s largest private-sector employer but also affirms future potential for the area’s businesses and organizations.
The six-year upgrade in the South Simcoe community will allow the manufacturing of hybrid vehicles as the carmaker aims to electrify its entire fleet in North America by 2040.
“There’s a lot of people here that went: ‘Wow, great, we’re going to be able to live out our dreams here at Honda’ and they believe there will be something for them in the long run,” said a Honda worker who asked not to be identified.
He sees promise in the announced investment. The question for him now is: how will it all roll out?
And looking at the competition that has already moved to electrification with hybrid and electric vehicles, the worker does see promise.
Toyota’s hybrids, he says, have been quite popular.
“Something like that in the CRV line would certainly be exciting,” he said. “This will be a big step for us…. But no one knows for sure how it would go.”
Upgrades and re-tooling are underway in Alliston but spokesman John Bordignon said it is a gradual and continual process.
Being named the lead plant in North America to build the all-new 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid SUV will sustain and secure the current jobs, with hiring ongoing, he added.
Paul Markle, executive director of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce sees opportunities for new kinds of employment in the announcement while marking an important shift away from carbon-based vehicles.
“The trickle-down effect of that stabilized car manufacturing facility in our area is really important,” he said.
In addition to the 4,200 people directly employed by Honda in Alliston, Markle points to the various suppliers, contractors and others that service the facility - many in the Barrie area.
Among them are Innovative Automation in Barrie.
“There will be opportunities to either assemble or, in our case, to supply equipment to assemble and test those components before they get shipped to Honda,” said Steve Loftus, co-owner of Innovative Automation. “All of those companies get supported when companies make long-term commitments into that technology.
“Part of the issue here is we need investment in electrification in Ontario if we’re going to maintain our strong automotive manufacturing core.”
Innovative Automation creates automated assembly systems and test systems, employing more than 150 people. The company has also created its own robotic taping system called RoboTape.
Companies that join Honda’s journey in the electrification of vehicles, he believes, become more competitive as they pursue relationships with other companies and other industries.
There are plenty of benefits, too, for those not yet in the job market.
Georgian College formalized a long-standing relationship with Honda through a five-year partnership in 2019 which sees the automaker help the college acquire leading edge equipment and learning spaces, provide awards and scholarships and become involved in research and development projects with the college.
Students also find regular co-op opportunities and jobs with Honda, whose staff provides input in some of the college’s program advisory committees.
“It was an incredible announcement for Honda and for our region,” said Kevin Weaver, Georgian College’s vice president of academics. “It certainly solidifies Honda of Canada Manufacturing in the Alliston community, in our region, supporting the regional economy.
“There are so many other companies that are in this region because of the presence of Honda because of the manufacturing.”
Weaver sees the investment providing further potential for economic spinoffs such as jobs and training, new ways to leverage technology and research opportunities.
Georgian is home to the Automotive Business School of Canada which offers diploma and degree programs focused specifically on the automotive sector. It also launched a graduate certificate program for those working in the industry to enhance their skills sets.
In addition to the automotive school, the carmaker is involved in the college’s business and technology programs, all of which may benefit from the new direction being undertaken by the automaker.
“Honda plans on being a part of the Alliston, Ontario community and Simcoe County for years to come,” said Honda’s Bordignon.