Budget overlooks Windsor
There’s a new SuperCorridor of innovation in Ontario getting $100 million of taxpayer money — and Windsor’s not in it.
The provincial government has designed a region focused on research and development that stretches from London and Waterloo through Toronto to Ottawa, according to the 2016 budget released Thursday afternoon.
The Innovation SuperCorridor is touted as “Canada’s most innovative region, with dense pockets of startups, research institutions and world-class talent.”
Its budget includes $35 million over five years for an advanced manufacturing consortium with McMaster, Waterloo and Western universities to focus on industrial innovation.
“I was disappointed that Windsor wasn’t included in that consortium because I believe we have a lot to offer,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. “In this city we have a huge manufacturing cluster that already exists. It’s been our bread and butter in this community and we’ve got a world-class university right here.”
Brad Duguid, provincial minister of economic development, said Windsor is not forgotten but that the core of startups is between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Windsor has some really interesting and exciting advances being made in a lot of the automotive technology and it cannot be ignored — and it’s not ignored — but the centre of the innovation hub in the central part of Ontario remains the Toronto-Waterloo corridor,” he said.
The $100 million includes the funds for the consortium, $50 million for the Perimeter Institute and $15 million for the University of Toronto’s Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The consortium is intended to benefit the entire province by developing 3D printing and digital components and devices.
Mike Moffatt, economist with the Ivey Business School in London, said it’s surprising Windsor isn’t recognized as an innovation hub due to its proximity to Detroit and automotive innovation.
“It certainly is a glaring omission,” he said.
Moffatt said it’s important for Windsor’s tech sector to make itself known at the provincial level, starting with collaboration among the companies, the business accelerator, the university, the Chamber of Commerce and local government.
“You shouldn’t write off the tech sector in Windsor. It is disappointing to see it excluded from this,” Moffatt said.
Matt Marchand, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Windsor does have a strong tech sector and many successful entrepreneurs.
“If the message about our great entrepreneurs and tech sector hasn’t reached the ears of Queen’s Park, certainly it’s our responsibility to make sure that happens and it happens in a very aggressive and meaningful way, sooner rather than later,” he said.
Duguid said the consortium proposal came from the sector and often the ideas begin with a small number of partners and grow as the initiative develops. He said maybe Windsor could tap into the funds in the future.
Alan Wildeman, president of the University of Windsor, said he’s not concerned about Windsor being left out.
“The province is very aware that there are great things going on in every corner of the province,” he said.
Windsor is referenced under the Innovation SuperCorridor section when it refers to high-speed rail. Windsor wasn’t originally considered part of that plan but was added after an outcry from residents and local politicians.
Not only was Windsor not included in the Innovation SuperCorridor, but the budget did not include any specific references to local infrastructure projects or funding for the region. Other cities, including London, Chatham, Hamilton and Oshawa, have specific projects promised funds in the budget.
“We know that we have no representatives who sit in government at either level, so we have to work harder,” Dilkens said. “It requires more conversations and really presenting Windsor’s business case every time we meet with the ministers or minister’s staff.”
Duguid told the Star the government is committed to Windsor and the auto sector, with $15 million included in the budget to make the industry more competitive. That includes $5 million over two years to set up an automotive supplier competitiveness program. It will help small- and medium-sized auto parts companies advance the technology they’re using.
Dilkens said those investments will help, along with a global export strategy that could help Windsor companies tap into foreign markets.
Windsor’s unemployment rate remained the highest in the country in January, at 9.3 per cent.
“We’re not going to quit investing in Windsor — in infrastructure, in companies — until we get that unemployment down to an acceptable level,” Duguid said. “Windsor is not forgotten. There are lots of great things happening there.”
Other budget benefits for Windsor
Money for public infrastructure
The budget promises $137 billion over the next 10 years for public infrastructure. Dilkens said Windsor has a long list of projects that could use the money, but will wait to see how the funding application is rolled out.
Capital spending on schools
The budget promises $11 billion for capital spending on schools. Dilkens said that could include a new Catholic Central High School on the Windsor Arena site, an ongoing project still seeking funding.
Free or affordable tuition costs
Tuition will be soon free for some low-income students and more affordable for middle-class families, a change the presidents of the University of Windsor and St. Clair College say will make their institutions more accessible to Windsorites. “This budget demonstrates a strong commitment to helping more students acquire the qualifications and professional skills that lead to rewarding careers,” college president Patti France said in a news release.
Research money for colleges
The budget also promises $20 million over three years for college-based applied research projects partnering with business. The real-world research will create jobs and help businesses become more innovative, according to the budget document.
Still on the wish list
Competitive electricity prices
“I was hoping for an incentive program to be more competitive with energy costs,” Dilkens said. He added that he applauds the government’s move toward clean energy, but had hoped the budget would offer a program to help businesses compete more effectively with the U.S. and other regions involved in manufacturing.