Kevin Johnson was laid off from Bombardier in 2003 when the local plant was down to about 250 employees.
Three years later he was back working at the Thunder Bay plant and Monday he was on hand for the celebration of Bombardier’s 20th anniversary in Ontario.
“Now we’re up to 1,300 (employees); that’s a good sign,” said Johnson. “That’s huge. It’s good for the company.”
The local plant celebrated via video conference with Bombardier’s three other Ontario operations in Toronto, North Bay and Kingston, which included Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin and Premier Dalton McGuinty, who last Friday announced another 60 GO Transit cars to be built in Thunder Bay.
Johnson said celebrating the milestone brings the whole company together and shows how strong it is.
Cab station chargehand Serge Sarti agreed events like the 20th anniversary increase morale amongst the employees.
“It brings everyone together and our future for the company, what our goals are and the aspirations for the future,” he said.
Bombardier acquired the Thunder Bay plant from the Urban Transportation development Corporation in 1992 and the company’s Thunder Bay business unit vice-president Rene Lalande said they have a lot of pride in far they’ve come in the last 20 years.
“We’ve worked with the people here, with our people from other parts of the company to bring this company to this side of the world-class level,” he said.
“We’ve been able to accumulate a lot of orders since then which meant we were able to grow.”
More than 1,400 rail cars have been manufactured in Thunder Bay and it is projected that the number will exceed 2,300 by 2020.
Looking forward into the next 20 years, Lalande said the competition from abroad is going to intensify.
The company plans to develop more standard products that will enable them to be more competitive and maintain operations in Thunder Bay.
“Competition will intensify but I think we will remain in a very good position to be at the front end of the race,” Lalande said.
While he didn’t get a chance to speak one-on-one with many employees Monday morning, Lalande said he knows people are excited about the future of the plant.
“They see the investment. They see the desire that we all have to be successful. I will not say it’s perfect harmony every day but the relationship between ourselves with the union, with all the key stakeholders, is pretty good,” he said.
“We’re aligned. We know we have a lot of work today. I feel the vast majority of us are pulling in the same direction to make it happen. The feeling is pretty good,” he added.
While Bombardier is celebrating 20 years in Ontario, the local plant will be celebrating its centennial this June, which Lalande said is the milestone that’s really important to everyone in Thunder Bay.
Not many manufacturing operations can boast the same longevity and it’s something to be proud of as it’s not a small operation or one that’s being phased out, said Lalande.
“We are still growing after 100 years,” he said.
Events are planned to celebrate the anniversary during the week of June 25.
There are about 1,300 employees currently working at the plant, but that number is expected to rise to 1,400 before the summer’s end.
On Twitter: @JodiL_reporter