Help Me Understand Windsor:
Presentation to the Export Development Corporation Tooling Conference by Dennis DesRosiers, October 25, 2005, Windsor, Ontario
Thank you for the opportunity to speak once again at this conference. It is a true honour. I’ve spoken at every one of these EDC conferences and firmly believe that EDC is providing an invaluable service to the MTDM sector in W-EC. Every company in this room should embrace their services and the services of the other sponsors to this conference like PWC. They have provided you with an invaluable process for discussing and debating serious issues in your sector, a process for better understanding your industry and a process where you can better understand the products and services that you need to succeed.
During the past 10 days I’ve been in Japan looking at the vehicles that will shape the future of our industry. I’ve been meeting with automotive parts suppliers encouraging them to invest in Canada. I’ve spent a lot of time with investment development officers at all level of Government on this trip. I’ve learned a lot that is relevant to the audience today but is somewhat off topic from what I was asked to speak about. While away I’ve struggled whether to go off topic and get into some of the issues that Windsor-Essex County need to address to help make everyone in this room more successful.
EDC, of course, wants me to stay on topic and address the outlook for the tool sector and I will talk about this, trust me. But I’m also very frustrated with the City of Windsor and I have to touch on some of the other local issues that are equally important to the Machine, Tool, Die and Mould sector in this City. I see my hometown losing thousands of automotive and MTDM sector related jobs and we need an action plan to reverse this trend.
I see so much untapped potential in Windsor’s automotive and related sector. But I’m also very concerned because I also cannot identify any ‘Champion’ for Windsor. Windsor desperately needs an Yves Landry style of ‘Champion’. Windsor desperately needs leadership, someone who will put the City and this region ahead of political gamesmanship and their own self-interest. And unfortunately, I do not see this leadership coming from City Hall and I don’t see this leadership coming from someone in local industry.
I am willing to stand up and address many vexing issues that face the MTDM sector and the City of Windsor. If you have been here over the years you know that I say it like it is. And I do this, not to be entertaining, but because I find that Windsor needs to be hit over the head with a two by four to get any message.
Last year, I tried something different, I stuck to my text and I didn’t offer much in the way of straight talk. Dozens came up to me after my speech and told me they preferred the old ‘Dennis’ that cut through the crap and addressed the issues the automotive and MTDM industry in this City wants and needs to be addressed. Well I’m back.
Let me start by stating to you in as blunt and clear words as possible. Windsor’s automotive sector is in serious trouble … your suppliers are in trouble, your OEMs have very serious issues to resolve, your tool sector is in trouble and the ordinary citizen walking down the street is in trouble. This City’s automotive sector is in trouble and when the automotive sector is in trouble, Windsor is in serious trouble.
This City needs a wake-up call. This is not new to the City. When Mike Hurst was first elected in 1991 the auto sector and Windsor was in big trouble. Plagued by high unemployment, a high dollar and a bleak outlook just like it has today. Your former Mayor rolled up his sleeves and focused on the auto industry. The result of his leadership and others in the community was billions in automotive investment and thousands of jobs.
Look into your future Windsor. Within three years everything that the previous mayor and his councils accomplished in terms of the automotive sector will be wiped out, gonzo, kaput, finito. Indeed much of it is already gone.
This is not rhetoric it is fact.
Based on their current performance, I don’t see a lot of reason for hope with the current politicians running this City. This City Council has demonstrated that they are unfocused and lack vision. They are more obsessed with media spin, secrecy and perception than any other council on record. They have abandoned every one in this room, they are certainly not showing leadership for your industry.
Help me understand my hometown of Windsor; there are many issues I just can’t seem to get my head around. I need someone to explain these things to me.
Why, for example, is the City spending millions on Toronto lawyers fighting senior Governments? The Federal and Provincial Governments want to spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure in Windsor yet we snub them and we fight them – Why not work with them? Help me understand this.
Why is there is a refusal to acknowledge that Windsor’s reputation as a stronghold for organized labour is impacting the new reality of the auto sector – strong growth in non-union jobs and heavy declines in union jobs?
Here are the facts: in the automotive sector in this country, 15,000 union jobs have disappeared over the last 5 to 8 years and we are about to lose another 5,000 union jobs with the current labour contracts, many of these jobs will be in Windsor. During the same time frame 40,000 non-union jobs have been created with very few in Windsor and these non-union jobs should grow by about 15,000 over the next few years. It is unlikely that any of these new non-union jobs will be in Windsor.
So help me here … on one side the equation you have thousands of union jobs disappearing and on the other hand you have 10’s of thousands of non-union jobs being created. What is Windsor doing – courting union support for an 8 km road to nowhere? Help me understand why this City embraces the declining union side of this industry rather than facing the challenges of the industry and embracing the non-union side of this industry? Help me with this.
Help me understand what Windsor is doing relative to the possible Honda investment. First of all Honda has vehemently denied they are planning to build another plant in Canada, but City Hall is going to fly to Japan and ask Honda to build this non-existent plant in union town Windsor. Help me understand this.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, not only is Windsor the last place in Canada they would build a plant but Windsor is the last place on the face of the earth that Honda would build a plant.
Why would you waste taxpayer’s money on this junket? City Hall is again, focused on perception and spin rather than developing a solid plan to get results.
Help me understand why investors would come to Windsor where a sign states: ‘no trucks on our expressway’. This is one of most anti-auto things Windsor could possibly do; make no mistake -- it is hurting investment opportunities in this City. Help me understand this. How can you tell Ford that they can use your roads for the Essex engine plant but not those related to Oakville. GM can do the same for their transmission plant but not those related to Oshawa. DCX can do the same for the Pacifica plant but not their plant in Bramalea. How stupid can your politicians be? Help me understand how the MTDM sector can grow with these types of ridiculous by-laws.
Help me understand how Windsor can have one of the highest local tax loads in all of Ontario, tax loads that are driving businesses out of Windsor, indeed driving many in Windsor like all of you in this room out of business, tax loads to pay for Toronto lawyers, New York consultants and proposed flights to Japan to get automotive investors to come and build non-existent plants when the auto sector can’t drive their trucks on our expressway -- EC Row. Help me understand this.
Help me understand Windsor’s land problems. Windsor has little in the way of serviceable development property. Yet this issue has been lying dormant in City Hall. So help me understand how the City of Windsor expects to attract investors to the area when they don’t have land ready for these same investors to build their plants on. Help me understand this.
Help me understand why an overseas investor would come to Windsor with the following attributes: ‘town with no trucks on our streets’, ‘town with high taxes’, ‘town with limited development land’ and “town with a strong union presence”, help me understand this.
The previous mayor worked with the great Yves Landry and set out a bold vision for the automotive sector in Windsor. They envisioned Windsor as a leading centre for automotive research, design, development and testing of vehicles and parts. A city with a high tech MTDM sector.
Their vision has been partially fulfilled. A billion dollars of intellectual capital has come into Windsor-Essex County since they set out this bold vision.
But to make Windsor an intellectual centre in the automotive sector absolutely requires deep and ongoing co-operation with the U of Windsor and St. Clair College. It can’t be done without higher education. So help me understand why the current City council has neglected their role of providing Capital funding to these institutions to build classrooms and lab space for future automotive employees. Help me understand this.
Help me understand why City Council doesn’t embrace the University of Windsor and our College and jump through hoops to help make these institutions the best in Canada. Help me understand this.
Just about the only positive automotive developments over the last number of years in Windsor have been on the intellectual side of this industry. ARDC, Auto21, the CARE building, International Truck, engineering chairs at the university, the Ford Centre for Advance Manufacturing and many more positives. But the City pretty well ignores these positives and instead goes after plants they have no possibility to land into Windsor and doesn’t fund the institutions at the center of these successes. Help me understand this.
Assembly employment in this province has declined by 10,000 workers in the last decade; automotive parts employment has grown by 55,000 workers. Yet Windsor has a fixation for trying to attract assembly plants they have no possibility of ever getting and pretty well ignores the parts industry and MTDM side of this industry. That’s you in this room.
Help me understand this. Is it because investment promotion in this City is about politics not about building a great City…. you decide.
Help me understand why City Council has wasted millions of dollars on the Schwartz 8 km ring road to nowhere while your automotive sector has been crumbling around them. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns. Your City council has added years to a viable solution to the border and the automotive sector is the biggest loser. Help me understand why they have done this.
Help me understand how the City can allow the Development Commission to go without effective leadership for three years. Instead of putting proper leadership at the Development Commission, they take someone who has little if any experience in attracting investment in the auto sector, rename it Enterprise Windsor and put him in charge. Help me understand this.
There are a lot of things I don’t understand about Windsor. I could go on, I won’t.
Now I’m told quite explicitly that I’m a negative SOB. Read the letters to the editor in the Windsor Star. I’m told that I should come to Windsor with solutions rather than come to Windsor and rant about the negatives. Well yes, I quite often tell Windsor things that it doesn’t want to hear. After all, apparently now in Windsor you have to toe City Council’s line of “deny, spin and put on a happy face” or you are drummed out of town. Well I’m already out of town so I guess I must frustrate the heck out of those that want me to leave town because at the end of the day I go home voluntarily.
Let me tell you very honestly that my comments are born out of frustration not a desire to be negative. Indeed I believe I’m a lot more positive than negative and I see a lot of positives in Windsor but at the same time a City that frustrates me.
You have a young mayor who may develop into a very capable Mayor but one that can’t admit mistakes or change directions. You have an incredibly talented group of professionals at the University of Windsor and St Clair College who are not being given the resources necessary to build great Institutions and in the process help build a great City. You have sitting in this room the best tool, mould and die set makers in North America but the City doesn’t help our College train the highly skilled workers they desperately need to survive.
I have been positive. I laid out a comprehensive plan for the previous mayor to develop Windsor into the intellectual capital of the automotive sector in Canada and one of the key intellectual capitals anywhere in the world. A report, by the way, that is currently sitting on a shelf.
I’m on the Board of Governors at the University and this Board has spent thousands of hours helping the University address its fundamental issues. The Board of Governors at the University of Windsor is facilitating huge change at the school and I’m proud to be a part of this effort.
I’m told I should talk about what Windsor should do rather than talk about Windsor’s problems. Well here are some things that Windsor can and should do.
First of all, take the Development Commission out of the Mayor’s office and put it in the hands of capable business professionals in the region who know what it takes to be successful. Only a regional Development Commission, independent from the politicians can be successful. The Mayor is having trouble getting businessmen involved with the Commission because these businessmen hate the politics. Well then eliminate the politics.
Second, properly fund the Development Commission. How does the City expect to get investment when they don’t invest in the Commission whose role it is to attract investments? Your interim Develop Commissioner is one of the most talented development officers in this land, you made the right decision appointing him now give him the required resources and then get out of his way and let him do his job. Save the money you’ll spend on a job search … you’ve got your man.
Third, in this same vain, get an action plan in place for Development of the region and I don’t mean some generic 10-mile high look at economic development theory and practice like the one that City Hall recently commissioned. I mean the nitty gritty, get your hands dirty, kind of action plan that clearly spells out the steps you need to take to move forward to make this area a great City again. A plan that clearly spells out the strengths in the area and the steps you need to take to address your weaknesses.
Third, support and work with Gary McNamara the Mayor of Tecumseh who was instrumental in the land deal with Windsor. Someone, by the way, who quite rightly supports the expansion of EC Row Expressway and Lauzon Parkway. Work with Tecumseh to get some properly serviced development land in place and get it done quickly.
Fourth, forget about chasing after the ‘pigs in a poke’ assembly plants … believe me, if there is an assembly plant in the cards for Windsor then we have very capable people at Queens Park and in Ottawa that will take the initiative and land these plants. Canada has been more successful than any other country in the world with this task. They know what they are doing. There is a role for a local Development Commission but let the higher levels of Government guide the process. Get out of their way.
Fifth, embrace the vision of Yves Landry and the previous mayor. Put in place the infrastructure and other tools to make Windsor – Essex County a dynamic centre for research, design, development and testing of vehicles and automotive components and tools and molds and dies and machinery. This also means providing the base funding for a new engineering building at the University of Windsor and funding to help St Clair College with their programs. In this same vain, W-EC is developing a very important intellectual cluster focusing on diesel engine technology, sit down and brainstorm a strategy to take this to where it ultimately needs to go.
Sixth, eliminate the ‘silos’ that exist between the University and the College and City Council. While you are at it, eliminate the ‘silos’ that exist between City Hall and other levels of Government. Eliminate the silos between City Hall and industry and your MTDM sector. The first step is to admit you have silos. No one seems to want to work together down here, you have to change this.
Seventh, get rid of the foolish and selfish ‘no trucks’ bylaw – just for a moment pretend you want automotive investments. The automotive industry across Ontario needs access to EC Row and yes that means trucks on EC Row, get over it – in fact trucks are already using it. They will not invest in Windsor until this happens. This is the first and easiest step.
Eight, build out EC-Row to its full potential and extend Lauzon Parkway. EC Row was designed for 8 lanes. Why do this? Simple, to open up land that can be developed to help attract investment and jobs which the city desperately needs. You have the second highest unemployment rate in Ontario. Why would you eliminate the only land available for investment is a mystery to me.
The Town of Tecumseh wants EC Row expanded. Lakeshore wants it expanded. Industry wants it expanded. Our senior Governments want it expanded and will pay for much if not all of it. Windsor cannot afford the $100m in capital costs. So, why the city wants to protect the grass between the lanes on EC Row but wants to bulldoze the Ojibway nature preserve for a expressway to nowhere remains yet another mystery.
Ninth, talk with governments and stakeholders, rather than use lawyers. Indeed, fire the lawyers, pollsters, and lobbyists. All you have done is delay the border solution process and upset the other levels of Government that you desperately need for resources to build a great City and solve the border issue.
Tenth, phone up the Deputy Prime Minister and the Premier whom you snubbed and apologize.
Eleventh, step up to the table and address your negative image. The University is last in the MacLean’s ratings not because the school is under performing per se, but because it is in Windsor and suffers from Windsor’s poor image. The University is a great school that has a process in place to become an even greater school but doing this under the negative umbrella of the City is difficult.
Twelfth, step up to the table and properly fund the capital programs so desperately needed by the University of Windsor and St. Clair College. At City Council this week, not next week but this week, I’d like to see the City pledge $25 million in capital financing to these great institutions. Financing that would flow to them over the next 10 years. Financing that would be tied to key benchmarks that ensure the money is being well spent. Financing that would be guaranteed if these benchmarks were met which would allow these institutions to be able to properly plan in an environment of certainty rather than doubt and miss-trust.
You must find this funding. One idea -- instead of wasting the $3 million a year on Toronto lawyers, lobbyists and New York consultants – invest in the University of Windsor and St. Clair College. Invest in Windsor’s future.
Do what previous mayors did and spend some political capital, show leadership and pledge to work with the U of Windsor and St. Clair College to make these schools the best they can be. They are critical to the future of the automotive sector in Windsor, it’s your future.
Thirteenth. Address your high taxes. Businesses in this room provide Windsor with thousands of jobs; it is time to thank them with lower taxes.
Fourteenth. Make public statements early and often in your belief that Windsor is open to non-union investment and you will do what ever it takes to make non-union investment happen. Work with the existing unions to change their tactics and their perception.
The unions must re-invent themselves and find a way to add value to the automotive sector or face extinction.
Lastly. Stop focusing on media spin, hype and blame. People in business and industry see through it, so stop it.
Memo to Mayor and Council: securing jobs and investment for Windsor makes for good politics. In other words if do your job and then you don’t have to worry about media spin hype and blame.
I am hopeful that the Mayor and council will listen to what I have said today and consider it. Unfortunately, I can see that they will likely lash back at me. This is what some have done in the past and I expect the same again. It’s sort of sad – exposing reality can often be tough.
But remember I’m only the messenger; I’m not the problem. Do what is right and think about what I have said today.
I hope all parties can work together to build the great region of Windsor-Essex County that we all want and envision. A great Windsor-Essex County is good for the MTDM sector, it is good for the suppliers it is good for GM, Ford and DCX. It is good for all the citizens in Windsor.
Now let me get back to my slides