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LEDC sets sights on high-yield economic clusters in new year

Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 00:00

The London Economic Development Corporation has identified five key industrial "clusters" it hopes to target in 2004 as having the greatest potential for local growth.

The LEDC strategic plan for next year builds on its activities in 2003 when more than $100 million in total investment and 625 new jobs were attracted to London, the report says. "People want to see some sort of progress and the number of jobs created and the money brought in," said Lesley Cornelius, LEDC marketing director. "But we're also busy with existing businesses and watching that area grow"

The LEDC is targeting five clusters next year − manufacturing (automotive and food processing), information technology, life sciences (including biotechnology, customer services (including call centres) and transportation/travel.

The key sectors were identified during an annual strategy review in September. Those sectors will be the subject of both new business acquisitions and retention and maintenance of existing businesses, Cornelius said.

That doesn't exclude other sectors for LEDC assistance, she said, but they are focusing on where they get the biggest bang for their buck.

Another advantage of clustering similar industries together is they can form bonds and help one another, she said.

They can also help the LEDC in new business growth by touting London via work of mouth to others in their field and act as sources of information for one another. "We have only 12 people here so we can't be everywhere all the time," Cornelius said.

The LEDC is content to sit in an advisory role on various industrial advisory councils, she said, offering support, not direction.

While the status of the LEDC can rise and fall given the economic climate, the body with the $1.3-million budget has definitely seen its share of rising fortunes in the five years since its creation.

John Kime, president and CEO of the LEDC, said he was pleased Michigan-based TransForm Automotive announced earlier this month it will invest $15 million (U.S.) to build a plant in London making parts for auto transmissions. "We are delighted that TransForm Automotive has chosen London, Ont., for its first Canadian manufacturing facility and will be contributing to the growing automotive parts industry in our community," Kime said.

About 150 are expected to work initially at the plant with as many as 450 working there eventually, the company said in a release. "We are grateful to have worked with the staff from the London Economic Development Corporation" said Ted Ens, TransForm president.

While companies now are seeking London out − there were 17 external inquiries in November − it wasn't always so.

The first two years were spent devising a mandate, hiring the right staff, researching the community and building partnerships with strategic allies in the community. These included UWO and Fanshawe College.

From 2000 to 2003, the LEDC claims to have attracted a total of 5,140 new jobs to the city and more than $800 million in new investment.

This doesn't include 2,000 new jobs the LEDC says it helped create as local companies expanded here.

The corporation now is "reaching out abroad" to key decision-makers and bringing companies like Starlim-Sterner here from Europe.

The LEDC enjoyed a few moment in the limelight earlier this year when the Conference Board of Canada named London as one of the country's fastest-growing economies of 2003.

Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco was quick to credit the LEDC and the city's industrial land strategy of setting aside industrial land for fast acquisition by new business.

Moody's Investors Service upheld its Aaa credit rating for London this year. Record building and real estate transactions have seen the city bustling faster than any time since the 1990s.

As the LEDC surfs along the wave of economic strength pushing the economy forward, it has begun to look to new areas for improvement.

Once companies are banging on London's doors, they may find serviced industrial land on the shelf, but another shortage could face employers.

If there isn't a skilled workforce in place, companies may overlook the city and locate elsewhere.

To help forestall this possibility, the LEDC recently hired Jeny Wallace as director of workforce development. She is to seek out gaps in labour supply and demand and attempt to create solutions.

Solectron, formerly Stream International, has been seeking hundreds of skilled workers for its call centre and had to put out a call for application to meet the need.

As Kime said recently, "The product we have is the skill of the community."

More information on LEDC can be found at www.ledc.com

Source: London This Week. December 31, 2003: "LEDC sets sights on high-yield economic clusters in new year" By Dave Miller, London This Week

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