Woolwich may be best known for its agricultural roots, but the local manufacturing industry is also a growing force to be reckoned with. North American Manufacturing Day is kicking off in the Waterloo Region with plant tours, including the lunar rover being developed in New Hamburg for NASA.Brad Labadie, project coordinator for the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, said he was surprised that 16 local manufacturers were interested in participating for the first year.
“It started out in the United States back in 2012, and it about was seven manufacturers that decided they wanted to address the myths around manufacturing and open their doors to the public or students,” Labadie said. “There were 35,000 people involved last year compared to 7,000 the first year.”
He said the board decided to bring the event to this region because it’s quickly become a manufacturing hub in Ontario, with plants for mining technology, aerospace parts, and automotive items.
“It’s all about showcasing what manufacturing is about,” Labadie said.
Carol Simpson, executive director of the planning board, said they did research a couple years ago based on the public’s perspective that the industry was dying.
“Our research was telling us the exact opposite,” Simpson said. “We put together a manufacturing action plan. One of those pieces was to promote the industry, that it wasn’t a dying industry, it was actually a very good career opportunity.”
While some of the tours are for students, others are open to the public. Simpson noted that many of the companies are hiring right now.
“One in five people in the area are directly involved in manufacturing,” Simpson said. “If you look at the spin off and the supply jobs to that industry, it’s a substantial industry in this area for sure.”
She added there’s a strong food producing industry here because of the agriculture. Some of the facilities are going to be giving hands on opportunities to try out the equipment.
Simpson said people often hear that manufacturing has been struggling for years but the manufacturers who remained after the recession are growing quickly.
“There’s some really cool stuff being made in Waterloo region that people don’t realize,” Simpson said.
Ulrich Borths, regional manager for engineering and maintenance at Toyota Boshoku, said they’re doing two student tours where they’ll see a Powerpoint presentation on what they company does and then get a tour of the Elmira manufacturing facility.
“We’re basically the interior arm of Toyota so, all the seats and door panels come out of here,” Borths said. “They can see the seat assembly and robotic assemblies. They’re going to get a good cross section of what the manufacturing in the automotive sector is all about.”
He said the manufacturing sector has been up and down over the years, but overall Toyota has given the plant significant growth. They recently had a 34 per cent volume increase.
“I think if you make a career choice it’s important to see all aspects,” Borths said about the plant’s decision to participate in the event. “Sometimes manufacturing is somewhat overlooked, it’s maybe not as glamorous viewed as other areas. But it’s vital to our economy and has some good opportunities for young people.”
He said with next year’s launch of the new Lexus, they hope to expand substantially.
“When we started out here we were maybe 200 employees, it’s now 350,” Borths said. “By the time the new Lexus is launched I’m hoping about 500.”
Participating companies include Anchor Danly, Ontario Drive and Gear, Christie Digital, PWO, Septimatech, Linamar, Hitachi, Musahai, MSW Canadian Plastics Inc., Toyota Boshoku, Kuntz Electroplating, Husky Farm Equipment, Dana Corporation, ABS Friction, CGL Manufacturing Inc., and TG Minto.
There are still some spots available to the public for the October 3 tours. More information can be found at www.workforceplanningboard.com