And just like that, lightning escaped the bottle.
Two months after announcing Magna International was coming to Chatham, bringing 150 good-paying jobs with it, the company has done an about face.
Plans to expand the company’s battery enclosure manufacturing operation to Chatham from St. Thomas have dried up. For now. Perhaps forever.
Magna was to expand into 125 Irwin St. off Riverview Drive. As of late March, Phil Page, general manager of Formet Industries, a subsidiary of Magna, said interest in the F150 Lightning has been huge, prompting Formet to look for additional production space to build the battery housings. He said the St. Thomas facility just didn’t have the space, so they looked elsewhere.
According to company officials, since that time, adjustments in schedules have opened up more capacity at its Formet facility. As a result, the company has made the decision to retain the EV related product in the current facility.
Magna let its employees know of the decision in late May.
Mark Johnson, group general manager with Magna, said with the battery enclosures being a new product in an emerging market, the company jumped at the opportunity to keep everything under one roof at this point in time.
“It is important that we leverage existing capacity and know-how with a complex product like battery enclosures, which is a completely new product area for Magna, and one that is important for every electric vehicle,” he said in a media release.
Chatham-Kent officials said they worked with Magna since last September on this expansion.
“While we are very disappointed, we understand businesses must be able to manage their operations in the most effective way possible,” said Mayor Darrin Canniff in a media release. “We are gratified by the company’s statement thanking our staff and community leaders who exceeded Magna’s needs throughout the planning process.”
Johnson did commend municipal officials for their efforts.
“Thank you to the community leaders of Chatham who have been great to work with throughout the initial planning process. Chatham remains on our radar screen as we look for more opportunities in the future,” he said.
Stuart McFadden, director of economic development for the municipality, said it is possible Magna will expand into Chatham in the future. They have a lease on the building, and the 170,000 square-foot space was adapted to Magna’s specifications.
“I know they went into it with the right intentions, but unfortunately things can change,” he said. “They have a 170,000-sq.-ft. building renovated and ready to go. They always have new production lines, and opportunities come ahead. And as opportunities present themselves from their end, they know they have a facility in Chatham that’s ready to go.”
Magna is a global employer, with 158,000 employees in 343 manufacturing operations and 91 product-development, engineering and sales centres spanning 28 countries.
Tracy Fuerst, vice-president of corporate communications and public relations with Magna, said no one was ever hired from Chatham for the new facility.