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Monday, January 22, 2024

In midst of local industrial boom, Invest WindsorEssex CEO departs post

Published Jan 22, 2024  •  4 minute read

Out at the top. Stephen MacKenzie, president and CEO of Invest WindsorEssex, is pictured at his downtown Windsor office on May 19, 2021. He’s got a new job at the University of Windsor starting next month. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

At a time when Invest WindsorEssex is involved in negotiating potentially billions of dollars in new investments for the region, including around the NextStar battery factory supply chain, its leader is moving on.

Stephen MacKenzie, the lead local economic development agency’s president and CEO, is being seconded to the University of Windsor starting in a month.

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MacKenzie was central to creating the vision for the region’s automobility plan in 2017, and he played a key role in securing for Windsor the $5-billion NextStar plant in March 2022. He will serve as a special advisor on innovation and partnerships at the university beginning February 19.

“I think it’s a brilliant move for Steve — it’s a bit of a loss for Invest WindsorEssex,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, who chairs the IWE board of directors.

“Steve did a remarkable job leading that organization and he’s well-suited to help connect with industry and create the partnerships and deal with the innovation between industry and the university,” said Dilkens.

Despite the move, MacKenzie will continue on the not-for-profit organization’s payroll. His current IWE contract, which would have expired in August, has been extended to the end of the year. How his university position will be funded or extended after that is still to be decided.

“The message should not be Steve is being moved from Invest WindsorEssex or some hint of anything,” Dilkens told the Windsor Star.

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“He can leverage his connections and knowledge of the transition that’s happening to make sure we maximize the benefits of the investments that are coming here.

“In order for us to win on all of the fronts we’re pursuing, we need to have the talent pipeline full,” Dilkens said.

“It has been my honour to lead the amazing team at Invest WindsorEssex over the past seven plus years and contribute to the economic revitalization of the Windsor-Essex region,” MacKenzie said in a statement.

When contacted by the Star, MacKenzie, a Nova Scotia native recruited to Windsor from economic development duties in Connecticut, declined comment beyond his statement.

Record investments. Invest WindsorEssex CEO Stephen MacKenzie, second from right, is shown in Windsor on Dec. 11, 2023, with Jae-Hwa Moon, president, Bobaek America, left, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Victor Fedeli, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, and Joe Goncalves, Invest WindsorEssex’s investment attraction director, at Bobaek’s announcement of a new $35-million industrial plant in Windsor. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Crafting an aggressive strategy designed to compete with both American and domestic competitors for pieces of the battery supply chain, Windsor has tapped into government financial support from all three levels to produce record results.

It’s a local success strategy that has drawn much attention from outside the region.

“With combined investment facilitated by all IWE departments during this period exceeding $8.6 billion, corresponding to 13,539 direct jobs, IWE is among the top performing economic development organizations in North America,” MacKenzie said in his statement.

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Over the past two years alone, Invest WindsorEssex reported it had landed $5.5 billion in new investments and $2 billion in existing company expansions, with the expectation of 4,500 new direct jobs and 22,000 indirect local jobs.

“The Windsor-Essex region and the University of Windsor are on an upward trajectory, rapidly expanding in reputation, impact and appeal,” MacKenzie said. “This growth provides an ideal platform for us to continue to highlight and advance innovative opportunities, partnerships and ideas.”

At the university, MacKenzie will focus on institutional innovation and partnership initiatives under the direction of Shanthi Johnson, vice-president of research and innovation.

“Stephen’s dedicated focus and expertise will significantly amplify the promotion of partnerships in innovation and growth,” said UWindsor president Robert Gordon.

Dilkens said moving MacKenzie to a new role was part of discussions over the past couple of months. Talks involved the IWE board, Gordon, who is also IWE board vice-chair, and MacKenzie.

Invest WindsorEssex CEO and president Stephen MacKenzie, right, looks on during a local financial assistance announcement on April 1, 2022, in downtown Windsor with MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh), centre, and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. As head of the lead local economic development agency, MacKenzie was instrumental in attracting huge new investments and many new jobs to the local area. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

“Connecting the University of Windsor and Invest WindsorEssex through the position of advisor on innovation and partnership will help create economic opportunities in cutting-edge fields,” said Essex County Warden and Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald, who is also a member of Invest WindsorEssex’s board of directors.

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Invest WindsorEssex, jointly funded by the city and county, will begin a wide-ranging search for a new CEO in the coming weeks, said Dilkens. The goal is to have a new person in place in 90 to 120 days. An interim CEO will be appointed before February 19.

Dilkens said he wasn’t concerned about searching for a new CEO during what is viewed as a critical period in trying to recruit companies and investments. He noted MacKenzie will remain in the community and will continue to be used as a valuable resource.

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As for the timing of the move, Dilkens added there was no good time for MacKenzie to make the shift with the volume of projects being discussed now and what’s also coming in future years.

“It’s not like we can’t call him,” Dilkens said. “We’re happy Steve is remaining in the community.

“Ultimately, this is going to allow him to work intimately on that partnership piece which is so crucial between the university and these businesses we’re bringing here to make sure we win the war on talent.”

UWindsor president Gordon said the new position “will fortify the university’s commitment to the region and its vital role as a stakeholder actively contributing to economic prosperity through collaborations, research, education and training.”

During his IWE tenure, MacKenzie oversaw the agency securing an increase of $7 million in public grants.

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Twitter.com/windsorstar.com

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James Mackreides
James Mackreides
'Mac' is a short tempered former helicopter pilot , now a writer based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Loves dogs, the outdoors and staying far away from the ocean.

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