General Motors’ planned idling of five auto plants, including one in Oshawa, Ont., will be felt locally.
That according to Stuart McFadden, director of economic development for the municipality.
GM announced last week it planned to shut the plants at the end of next year as it culls the production of a number of vehicle lines and works to shift towards electric and autonomous vehicles production.
The move will impact about 2,500 people employed at the Oshawa assembly plant, and potentially thousands of other jobs to feeder plants that supply product to the Oshawa GM plant.
“There are a few here. We’ve been reaching out and having conversations with them,” he said of feeder plants. “We’ve got reports back that there will be minimal impact on local businesses.
“One company did some business with a facility in the States. But they are continuing to pursue other customers. They don’t foresee there will be any direct impact on current business.”
That wouldn’t have been the case a decade ago. McFadden said many area industries used to rely almost exclusively on feeding product to automotive manufacturing plants.
The last automotive recession changed the landscape.
“It’s important to note that a lot of our local companies have been very focused on balancing and diversifying. So they aren’t 100 per cent relying on automotive,” he said. “It’s so they can handle issues like this.”
McFadden noted that one company contacted by the municipality said 10 years ago it was entirely reliant on sales to the automotive industry. Now, that reliance is about 20 per cent.
“This helps you to handle the ebb and flow in various sectors at various times,” McFadden said of diversification.
He added this municipality is all too familiar with the impact of the loss of an automotive factory, referring to the loss of Navistar. The Chatham plant was idled in 2009 and eventually shuttered two years later.
“If there’s a community out there that can understand what they are going through, it’s Chatham-Kent,” McFadden said of Oshawa. “It’s very unfortunate news.”
The head of economic development for the municipality said there is potential for long-term optimism out of the GM announcement, however.
“They said one of the reasons (for the closures) was to put more focus on autonomous and electric vehicles. This could open up new opportunities,” he said.