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A Ford engine plant in struggling Windsor now has the horsepower to pursue more new production after the Ontario government pumped another $81.2 million into a revitalization project.

Two senior provincial cabinet ministers announced the grant Friday for the key second phase of an upgrade project at the Essex engine plant Ford closed in November 2007, but partly reopened in April 2008.

The grant and earlier government contributions could push the project's total cost to nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars within the next five years and create or retain more than 750 jobs.

Ford, which is experiencing a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes, is investing about $590 million to retool the plant in a bid to secure more work.

The federal and Ontario governments had signalled their intent to help Ford overhaul the plant under what they called "Project Renaissance" as far back as 2008.

"By being at the table as a proactive partner with Ford, we've been able to bring the Essex engine plant back to life and transform it into a leading-edge facility with a significant role in the company's long-term engine production and (research and development) plans," Economic Development Minister Sandra Pupatello said while announcing the grant.

Pupatello joined Finance Minister Dwight Duncan Friday to confirm Ontario's support.

Ford officials said the south Windsor plant is in a position to build various engines and develop more products because the site combines a modern flexible manufacturing line with a research centre.

"What this does is make us extremely competitive going forward," said Alexandria Maciag, the plant's operations manager. "It positions us to look for opportunities in the future and put additional production in the plant."

Maciag said the Essex flex line will allow Ford to quickly adapt to changing market conditions and consumer demand.

The plant is gearing up for production of the five-litre V-8 engine for the 2011 Ford Mustang GT sports car. That project will require a doubling of the current workforce of 250 to 500 later this year.

Ford could use that engine in other models in the future, including some models of trucks, according to company officials.

They also noted that rejuvenation of the plant will help local suppliers significantly since every job added at the Essex operation will create seven more spinoff jobs. Parts suppliers, tooling companies and providers of other services have faced a huge shakeout as the province's manufacturing sector contracted in recent years.

That has eliminated thousands of skilled jobs and decimated

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