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Expansion leads to 60 new jobs in Vaughan

by Adam Martin-Robbins

Sherwood Electromotion Inc. chugged along through the recent tough economic times, but now the Woodbridge company is gearing up for a major expansion and plans to add about 60 employees to its current roster of 100.

“We’ve gone through some meltdowns in the industry in the last couple of years, but we still keep growing,” president and owner George Gavrilidis said.

This is due, in large part, to a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) order for new streetcars in 2009.

Sherwood, which manufactures and overhauls traction motors, has purchased the former 116,000-square-foot Chrysler stamping plant at Jane Street and Hwy. 7, which it expects to move into early next year.

The company is in the midst of finalizing a contract with German company VEM to assemble traction motors for 204 streetcars, which the TTC ordered from Bombardier to replace its existing fleet.

Bombardier subcontracted the design of the traction motors to VEM, which inked a deal with Sherwood to meet Canadian content requirements.

“As the automotive industry has (been impacted by the economic downturn), the building has become vacant and it’s going to see life again from another sector, similar but different,” company spokesperson Mike Hardt said.

The company is going ahead with its expansion plans despite Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s vow to switch the TTC’s focus from streetcars to subways.

That’s because the talk, so far, has focused on scrapping plans for new streetcar lines, not killing the replacement of the current stock, Mr. Hardt said.

But Mr. Ford’s success or failure could have a major impact on Sherwood.

The deal negotiated between TTC and Bombardier for the replacement streetcars included an option to purchase hundreds of additional units for the planned future growth of Toronto’s light rail network.

Provincial transit agency Metrolinx picked up that option and was moving ahead with a deal to purchase more streetcars from Bombardier prior to Mr. Ford getting elected in October.

If Mr. Ford fails to fulfill his campaign promise and the new streetcar lines go ahead, it could mean even more business for Sherwood.

“We didn’t do our business model based upon this option order, we did it based upon the base order (of 204 streetcars),” Mr. Hardt said. “Should the option order come, or a portion of it, depending on what Mayor Ford and others decide, then obviously we would welcome that and it would help us a great deal. It’s all new work, which we would cherish.”

Sherwood has come a long way from its humble beginnings more than 30 years ago as a two-man operation rebuilding small industrial motors.

Mr. Gavrilidis emigrated from Greece in 1973 — he was 16. Four years later, the self-described “back-yard engineer” and a partner opened Sherwood Electromotion at a 2,500-square-foot facility in Vaughan. Their focus was refurbishing motors for material handling equipment like electric forklifts. A year-and-a-half later, Mr. Gavrilidis bought his partner’s share of the business.

Within a couple of years, Sherwood started doing work for the TTC. That helped spur the company’s growth and eventually prompted a move to Sherwood’s current location on Hanlan Road where it initially took up close to half of the 44,000-square-foot building, which it now occupies completely. It also opened the door to work with transit providers in the United States.

“That helped us out to qualify with New York Transit, with Boston, San Francisco,” Mr. Gavrilidis said. “We are approved right across the U.S. (now).”

Sherwood took over the entire Hanlan Road building in 1989. Two years later, it opened a 10,000-square-foot facility in Buffalo, New York.

“We do a lot of work within the transit industry in the U.S. and we have to comply with the Buy America and we have to comply with the assembly in the U.S. and 60 per cent U.S. materials for that,” the 53-year-old Woodbridge resident explained.

In addition to its work with mass transit providers, Sherwood also expanded over the years into the manufacture and overhaul of traction motors for the railway sector and industrial generators. It recently jumped into the burgeoning wind power industry, servicing motors for wind turbine generators.

Today, Sherwood boasts an extensive client list, which includes major firms such as Bombardier, GE Canada, Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, TTC, New York Transit and Union Pacific Railway.

With the economy rebounding and some major wind power projects slated to get underway in Ontario over the next few years, the future looks bright, Mr. Hardt said.

“Mass transit is (happening) now; heavy rail is coming very slowly as the economy improves and wind and green is the next big horizon so that’s why we concentrate on all of those,” he said. “And it’s the combination of those that we hope will fill our new plant.”




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