Local Manufacturer Doubles Workforce with Investment
Willis Manufacturing is bucking economic trends in the North American manufacturing sector, doubling its workforce so it can fulfill bigger, more complex contracts it has won thanks to a strategic investment in innovation backed by Community Futures of Prince Edward and Lennox & Addington (PELA CFDC), which receives support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
The Loyalist Township manufacturer received $57,647 to purchase technology that includes 3D design software and an enterprise resource planning system; and invest in training staff and funding industry certifications for employees.
“Together, we are investing in people to build their skills and supporting the expansion of advanced manufacturing locally. These investments are creating the jobs of tomorrow and preparing our communities for the economy of the future,” said Mike Bossio, Member of Parliament for Hastings–Lennox and Addington.
Investing in a highly trained and specialized workforce has paid off for the company, allowing it to create high-quality local jobs and position itself competitively to pursue a variety of contracts that would once have been out of reach. This includes in underserved markets around the Great Lakes on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border; and with large advanced manufacturers such as Bombardier, the leading maker of planes and trains in Canada.
“The company is a sum of all the people working for it. This investment has incentivized innovation and skills development and supported us investing in our people,” said Jeff Willis, owner of Willis Manufacturing.
A combination of funding support through PELA CFDC and newly acquired expertise has allowed Willis Manufacturing to expand into a new vertical – finishing and powder coating and hire Rick Bergin, their new shop foreman, who has 30 years of experience in powder coating.
“Finding and keeping new talent is a priority. We are constantly looking to become more competitive and are adding benefits, and that keeps our turnover really low,” said Willis. The company recently finished another round of hiring.
“Businesses look for employees who add value, and it’s important to remember that employees look for businesses that do the same thing. Management tends to worry about what happens if they invest in training their employees, but they should focus on what happens if they don’t train them and they stay,” said Sandra Latchford, Chair of the Area Development Committee of Community Futures of Prince Edward and Lennox & Addington County.
There are still challenges that Willis manufacturing faces. “Right now we’ve got two problems; we’re growing too fast, and we have too much work,” said Willis with a smile.
The investment served to leverage an additional $300,993 of private capital to finance the expansion of the advanced manufacturer.
The news comes shortly after it was announced that FedDev Ontario, recognizing the vital role rural communities play in the region’s economy, is dedicating an initial sum of $100 million to projects that drive innovation and growth in rural communities.
Recognizing that CFDCs are key partners in driving innovation and growth, it was also announced that FedDev Ontario is providing up to $15 million over two years to eastern Ontario CFDCs to continue to support economic development in rural eastern Ontario.
Canada’s ability to remain competitive in a fast-paced and increasingly global economy is closely tied to the strength of southern Ontario’s economy.
Investments such as this ensure businesses, organizations and communities in every corner of the country are able to seize opportunities to build a stronger, more innovative, inclusive and diversified economy.
FedDev Ontario has also launched an engagement process, inviting everyone in the region to provide feedback that will help target new investments and maximize their impact in southern Ontario.
About PELA CFDC
PELA CFDC, one of 15 Community Futures Development Corporations (CFDCs) in eastern Ontario, is a community-based social enterprise whose objective is to encourage local entrepreneurship and economic development through impact investing. The organization provides social finance that includes loans, grants and business advisory services. The social finance team provides connections to a network of entrepreneurs, investors and community groups. The organization is governed by a board of local volunteers, and is partially funded by the Government of Canada through FedDev Ontario.
About FedDev Ontario
FedDev Ontario is a federal regional development agency delivering programming in support of the Government of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan in southern Ontario, which aims to ensure Canadians living and working in the region have tailored support to seize opportunities created by the innovation economy. It collaborates specifically with Community Futures Development Corporations (CFDCs) to promote the growth of new and existing businesses in rural communities.