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Windsor Companies Cash in on Alberta Oil Boom

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WINDSOR, Ontario, Canada, February 13, 2014 — A growing number of companies that used to work in automotive supply in Windsor have been switching to other industries in order to survive.

That includes tool and die shops in Windsor that are cashing in on Alberta's oil boom.

One of those companies is Advance Machining Services, where Norm Marcoux is the president.

His company started out as an automotive supplier but switched primarily to the oil and gas industry about 10 years ago, although the transition wasn't easy.

"The biggest thing for us was having the right machinery to do the type of work," he said. "Windsor is a mill town. We do a lot of mill work. There weren't a lot of people machining around here."

Marcoux touted the automotive industry for preparing them to do business.

"As anal as the automotive industry was, or as harsh as they can be on their suppliers, they really make you have attention to detail and be a good supplier, where delivery dates matter," he said. "Working with these guys gave you common sense that we thought was every day. When you work with guys out west they thought it was great service we were providing."

He admitted changing his company's focus saved his business.

"We definitely wouldn't have survived the transition and then thrived," he said. "When we got into the oil and gas, we entered into a strategic alliance with our biggest customer and at one point we had ... all new machines (and) really nice state of the art shops."

Other companies in Windsor have also diversified.

Valiant Machine and Tool has branched out into the aviation industry.

Does diversification mean jobs?

High school students at E.J. Lajeunesse are optimistic that they will find employment in the auto industry after finishing school.

"I'm fairly hopeful. I think jobs are coming back," said Nicholas Marchand, a Grade 10 student who is taking a course in auto mechanics. "There's a whole bunch of opportunities. Not too much demand, but there's enough."

His friend, Austin Comtois, said the same. "We have give it about maybe five to 10 years, but (the jobs) will be there for us when we get out."

Neither student ruled out getting into manufacturing jobs related to the Alberta oil boom.

However, Michel Brassard, who works at the employment centre at College Boreal, is much more cautious about diversification in Windsor's industries.

"It will create jobs.These jobs will be 10, 15, 20 people. With technology, you don't need hundreds of people, you just need a few people who are smart," he said. "It doesn't absorb what's been laid off. So, the economy is shrinking."

Marcoux said last year was slow, but he expects it to pick up.

"We need to keep pushing the diversification," said Marcoux. "If you didn't evolve, you would die. It's as simple as that."

Source: cbc.ca, © CBC 2014

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