Toyota to build 100,000 vehicles per year in Woodstock, Ont., starting 2008
05:58 PM EDT Jul 10
New President of Toyota Motor Corp. Katsuaki Watanabe said that the automaker plans to build a new plant in Canada. (AP/Shizuo Kambayashi)
WOODSTOCK, Ont. (CP) - Ontario workers are well-trained.
That simple explanation was cited as a main reason why Toyota turned its back on hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies offered from several American states in favour of building a second Ontario plant.
Industry experts say Ontarians are easier and cheaper to train - helping make it more cost-efficient to train workers when the new Woodstock plant opens in 2008, 40 kilometres away from its skilled workforce in Cambridge.
"The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States," said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, whose members will see increased business with the new plant.
Acknowledging it was the "worst-kept secret" throughout Ontario's automotive industry, Toyota confirmed months of speculation Thursday by announcing plans to build a 1,300-worker factory in the southwestern Ontario city.
"Welcome to Woodstock - that's something I've been waiting a long time to say," Ray Tanguay, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, told hundreds gathered at a high school gymnasium.
The plant will produce the RAV-4, dubbed by some as a "mini sport-utility vehicle" that Toyota currently makes only in Japan. It plans to build 100,000 vehicles annually.
The factory will cost $800 million to build, with the federal and provincial governments kicking in $125 million of that to help cover research, training and infrastructure costs.
Several U.S. states were reportedly prepared to offer more than double that amount of subsidy. But Fedchun said much of that extra money would have been eaten away by higher training costs than are necessary for the Woodstock project.
He said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.
"The educational level and the skill level of the people down there is so much lower than it is in Ontario," Fedchun said.
In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson.
"Most people don't think of our health-care system as being a competitive advantage," he said.
Tanguay said Toyota's decision on where to build its seventh North American plant was "not only about money."
"It's about being in the right place," he said, noting the company can rely on the expertise of experienced Cambridge workers to help get Woodstock up and running.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said the money the province and Ottawa are pledging for the project is well-spent. His government has committed $400 million, including the latest Toyota package, to the province's auto sector, which helped finance $5-billion worth of industry projects.
"I think that's a great investment that will more than pay for itself in terms of new jobs and new economic returns," McGuinty said.
The provincial funds for the auto sector were drawn from a fund set up to attract investments specifically in that industry. McGuinty said no similar industry funds are being planned for other sectors, but added the province wants to attract biotechnology companies - those working on multibillion-dollar advanced medical research.
"What we have done for auto we would like to be able to do for biotech," he said. "That's where we're lending some real focus to at the present time." Similarly, Emmerson said Ottawa is looking to help out industries that create "clusters" of jobs around them - such as in aerospace, shipbuilding, telecommunications and forestry - where supply bases build around a large manufacturer.