Waterloo has more than a century of manufacturing experience. With our emergence as a global technology hub and world-renowned technical expertise, companies looking to innovate in robotics, aerospace and automotive can truly invent the future.
Waterloo’s industrial roots have laid a foundation for the future of manufacturing, which lead us to LEONI – a world-class advanced manufacturer that has found success in our community.
LEONI is a global provider of products, solutions and services for energy and data management in the automotive sector and other industries. Their business is about 80 percent automotive and 20 percent industrial. LEONI Elocab Limited, located in Kitchener, is part of the industrial group within LEONI and are a producer of custom cables and custom interconnect system solutions.
We sat down with Lukas von Arx, President of LEONI Elocab Ltd., to discuss why they chose to locate their first Canadian location in Waterloo Region and LEONI’s continued growth in our community. Read our Q&A and watch von Arx’s very own Why Waterloo Story below:
Q: What makes LEONI unique in the cable market?
VON ARX: Everything we produce here is completely custom and very specific to the requirements of our customers, it’s nothing that you can find off the shelf.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about IntONE™?
VON ARX: Over the years, we have seen many equipment failures in the field. Many of these failures trace back to a bad cable or an assembly improperly designed. Usually the cable, cable harness design and even the cable routing are the last components designed into the application. For many of our customers, engineering resources are sparse and assigned to the core functionality of the equipment, as they should. As a result, the cable routing design does not get the attention it actually needs. Often times it is assigned to a freshman engineer with little to no experience in this field.
IntONE™ brings everything to the next level. It is a full service solution and I am not talking solution as everybody talks solution – it’s much more: We partner with our customers and provide inputs to their projects and our engineers work hand-in-hand with the engineers of our customers in the same project team. We take over the whole electrical engineering process, starting from routing, component selection, like harmonization of components, and we do that in partnership with the engineers of our customers. Essentially, our customers are outsourcing the cabling work to an expert.
This is really a true partnership and we see the demand for this service increasing more and more. This is something unique that we are providing in the custom cable industry.
The result is less, if not zero, cable failures and harnesses that are easier to produce and assemble, harmonized with the equipment.
Q: Why was Waterloo the place LEONI chose to locate their Canadian plant?
VON ARX: From a business perspective Waterloo is ideal for several reasons. First, Waterloo Region provides a great geographic location, it’s ideally located within driving distance from two metropolitan regions – Detroit and Toronto. We have a large international customer base so the Toronto Pearson [International] Airport is ideal because it is a one hour drive from here, connecting us to our customers all over the globe.
And what’s even more important from an educational standpoint, Waterloo has great post secondary institutions, especially when you’re looking for talent like we are. We need mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, chemical engineers and the University of Waterloo feeds us with the talent we are looking for.
One of the big benefits here is that you can still find skilled people, such as cable manufacturers, cable machine operators, skilled assembly operators and assembly workers. This is equally as important for us. It is not just about engineering the best product – you also want the best people to physically produce it, too. We cannot maintain our leader position in the custom cable market without great talent and Waterloo provides us with that.
In the end, what we are doing here is extremely cutting edge. There’s nobody else out there that will be able to do what we are be able to produce here.
Q: Why did LEONI choose to expand their existing operation in Waterloo?
VON ARX: This location is extremely successful within the LEONI group, and this 14 million dollar expansion here in Canada is about serving our customers. It will bring the product offering that we have right now to the next level.
But what was really crucial was the work that was done by several government and government-related agencies, like Waterloo EDC. Your team was instrumental in making this investment happen here. And that really separates what is happening here from what’s happening elsewhere in the world.
Waterloo EDC, as well as the Mayor of Kitchener, went the extra mile and travelled to Germany to speak with senior executives and convince them to make the investment here. Other countries did not go this extra mile.
In general, I would even say, that all layers of government as well as local associations made it clear right from the start that they want this investment to happen here. They understood the extent of the innovation of our new project and were very supportive. Overall the conditions here played out favorably. And that is why we chose to invest in Waterloo.
Q: How have you found the community support when considering Waterloo?
VON ARX: The Ontario government was extremely supportive and helpful when we were deciding whether to expand here. Waterloo EDC connected us with organizations that provide funding like the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund.
We were connected with other companies in the Region, enabling us to exchange information about their experiences. We have worked extensively with the provincial government and I won’t deny that the provincial funding was instrumental when getting the investment realized here.
Also, Canada has a huge advantage of being very supportive in immigration, which when realizing a huge investment project, it becomes unavoidable to have people with unique skills inter-company transferred. It is much easier to do this in Canada then in other countries. As a country and company, you want to have the best people working for you.
Q: Waterloo has a large German community, did this connection play into your decision?
VON ARX: We have a large network of German companies and German CEOs that have relocated here. We meet on a regular basis to have lunches, exchange information and network.
It is very important for us, and I think it definitely helps if you come from a country abroad. It helps to know that other German companies in related industries have done their expansion here. It definitely played a role in our decision.
Q: Do you hire local talent from our universities and colleges either as graduates or co-op students?
VON ARX: We recruit many graduates from local universities. We require several types of engineers, including electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and chemical engineers, and having one of the best [engineering] universities here in Waterloo is definitely a source for this talent but also institutions like Conestoga College we get a lot of graduates from there. So absolutely, we hire locally whenever possible.
We partnered with the University of Waterloo’s co-op program, which allows us to permanently have a co-op student working with us. It is very important that we provide an interesting learning environment for these students. We try to give them challenging tasks as they would get if they were a regular employee.
I would say that the people here in Waterloo are extremely well educated, definitely above average, which is why if you are in an engineering heavy industry, I would recommend locating to Waterloo. If you are looking for machine operators or skilled assembly workers, you can find them here. There are other regions in Canada where the labour market has completely dried out, while it is getting more and more difficult to find these skilled people, Waterloo still has a resource pool to hire for these positions.
Q: What advice would you give to companies considering locating in Waterloo?
VON ARX: Use the resources that the Region provides and reach out to organizations like Waterloo EDC and the Chamber of Commerce. These organizations can connect you with local managing directors, presidents, CEOs and other companies. Network with these people, ask questions, and try to understand what made other companies relocate here. Managing directors and other people are usually very open to sharing their experiences. It is a very welcoming community here and they will be happy to help you.
My second piece of advice would be, talk to people at the provincial and federal governments. There are many attractive funding options that the provincial and federal governments provide, especially when you have a project as cutting edge as ours. Again, Waterloo EDC and the Chamber of Commerce can help you, and there is a high likelihood that they will help you fund it. Innovation is very crucial here.
Q: As a business leader how would you summarize your experience in Waterloo?
VON ARX: Everybody is supportive and very helpful. In Ontario, people go out of their way to help you navigate through any roadblocks, and this is great. It is like clockwork here; all organizations harmonize together and help you to be successful. You won’t get that level of support anywhere else.