Manufacturing sector wants to expand as economy recovers

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The WindsorEssex Workforce’s annual Economic Development Survey found that companies in the area are in a much more upbeat mood about their prospects compared to a year ago.

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Almost 60 percent of the 117 companies surveyed plan to expand in the next 18 months.

The survey was conducted from May 2 to June 3.

“The vast majority feel good or excellent about their overall impression of the community,” said Workforce Project and Research Manager Tashlyn Teskey.

“We are seeing more people feeling more positive than last year. Last year, companies were in more survival mode and this one is more about recovery.

“The business growth and expansion numbers are higher for this survey.”

Teskey said the key sector of the local economy, manufacturing, is among the most optimistic about the future.

“We’re seeing companies looking to expand, most commonly in the manufacturing sector,” Teskey said. “There are a lot of investments going on and they can do a lot with the new landscape that we are in.”

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Larry Horwitz, owner of The Chelsea residential and commercial complex, is shown in front of the Pelissier Street building on Thursday, June 23, 2022. He is in the process of adding several apartment units to the building.
Larry Horwitz, owner of The Chelsea residential and commercial complex, is shown in front of the Pelissier Street building on Thursday, June 23, 2022. He is in the process of adding several apartment units to the building. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The survey also revealed that about a third of companies developed new products or services during the COVID-19 pandemic and 51% of these companies intend to continue in these new markets.

The survey results will be used by Workforce WindsorEssex and Invest WindsorEssex to craft policies and priorities to help economic recovery from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said ShopECO owner Debra Purdy. “Things are improving, but there are still some challenges.

“Across the retail industry, there are different traffic patterns. It’s harder to predict when people will enter the store.”

Teskey said how well the area recovers will be determined by our ability to address some of the barriers to growth for the listed businesses.

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“The consistent response we’ve had in recent years to the shortage of skilled labor has grown over time,” said Teskey. “We have to delve into this.”

Larry Horwitz, owner of The Chelsea residential and commercial complex, is shown in the basement of the Pelissier Street building on Thursday, June 23, 2022. He is in the process of adding several apartments to the building.
Larry Horwitz, owner of The Chelsea residential and commercial complex, is shown in the basement of the Pelissier Street building on Thursday, June 23, 2022. He is in the process of adding several apartments to the building. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The research attempted to do this by investigating employers’ openness to hiring immigrants and newcomers and exploring education and training policies.

Nearly 64% of companies would hire newcomers and over 62% have done so in the past.

However, companies said the main barriers to hiring newcomers are a lack of experience and local training.

“We want to identify barriers to hiring newcomers because it’s a part of the workforce that isn’t often exploited,” Teskey said. “We have to deal with language barriers.

“We also captured a hesitation among employers to provide training opportunities, and the majority of employers reported that they did not reimburse or provide continuing education to their current employees.”

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Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Rakesh Naidu said the lack of training programs is a cause for concern.

“These are missed opportunities,” said Naidu. “When a company does not reinvest in its employees, it is a loss for the company.

“Finding workers is an issue, so one option is to take the people you have and upgrade them, which adds value to your business.”

Naidu added that the survey revealed that local businesses are also taking too long to adopt digital technology. The survey found that about 90% of companies are not using predictive modeling, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or employing someone to do data analysis.

“The world is moving to use more digital technology and we risk being left behind,” said Naidu. “This needs to be addressed.”

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Other significant barriers to growth cited in the report were marketing, financing, interest rates, inflation and supply chain issues.

These factors are combining to prevent what Wyandotte Street Business Improvement President Larry Horwitz said should have been a more robust recovery.

He added that the COVID measures still needed to cross the border pose another obstacle to the region’s recovery.

“I think cautiously optimistic is the correct description of the weather,” said Horwitz, owner of the Water’s Edge Event Center and Horwitz Holdings Property Development and Management.

“I would say we are at about 75% pre-pandemic. The key is to get some stabilization on these different issues over the next two quarters.”

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Horwitz added that he will proceed with the expansion plans he has had on the table for the past two years, but will wait to see the direction of interest rate increases, inflation and the general economy before considering new projects.

“It’s difficult because borrowing costs get tough with these increases,” Horwitz said. “This creates caution about moving forward on projects, expansion and contracting.”

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