Chatham-Kent’s $3 billion agriculture and agri-food system drives regional economy in successful southwestern Ontario communities

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chatham kent lake st. clair
The Lake St. Clair paradise in Chatham-Kent

Ontario Construction Report special feature

Located in southwestern Ontario, between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, Chatham-Kent is a predominantly rural area that includes, among its 23 communities and two First Nation territories, the communities of Chatham, Wallaceburg, Tilbury, Blenheim, Ridgetown, Dresden and Wheatley.

Michael Burton, director, investment attraction and government relations at the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, says that agricultural component is one of the region’s key features, noting that: “If it can be grown in Canada, it can be grown in Chatham-Kent.”

He says that with more than 70 different crop varieties in production, there is a combination of factors that make the area a key location for agricultural companies, including food processing. “Thanks to a unique combination of rich soil, abundant fresh water, warm climate, effective and applied research and more than 2,100 innovative producers, Chatham-Kent really does grow for the world.”

CK Tomato Processing-packaging-2017
CK Tomato Processing/packaging

Chatham-Kent’s agriculture and agri-food system is a $3 billion economic driver, he says, and is modern, highly complex and internationally competitive. Burton cites more than $120 million that has been invested in greenhouse expansion in the past four years as evidence. “Chatham-Kent is home to the world’s largest fresh water commercial fishing port and the number one producer of tomatoes, seed corn, carrots, cucumbers, brussels sprouts and pumpkins in all of Canada.”

Beyond agriculture, Chatham-Kent is also the home of Union Gas, an Enbridge company. Burton says the Dawn Hub, owned by Union Gas and located in the region, is the second largest natural gas storage facility in North America and also a major natural gas trading hub that provides natural gas intensive industries with the shortest natural gas transportation rates in Ontario.

Burton says the Chatham-Kent Economic Development Services’ team promotes the community to the world, communicating with senior national and international business leaders, as well as provincial and federal government decision makers “in order to identify Chatham-Kent as the ideal location for new investment.”

The team’s strategy focuses on the community assets including food processing and supply chain companies to the automotive sector. “We identify both federal and provincial incentives applicable to the existing business base and new investors and locally, have a property tax relief program for new incremental investment.”

GreenField Specialty Alcohols
GreenField Specialty Alcohols in Chatham-Kent

Other efforts include supporting local businesses with company expansion, with local issues affecting their businesses, encouraging strategic alliances, and gathering community intelligence. “Whether it’s fostering public-private partnerships to help grow existing businesses or attracting new investment to our area in order to drive market expansion, our economic development team is focused on driving prosperity wherever and whenever possible,” Burton says, adding that “here in Chatham-Kent, we believe the best incentive is a successful business operation.”

Evidence of the team’s success can be seen in the $193 million in capital investments to the community over the past three years.

The region has been successful in filling a large majority of its available industrial properties over the past five years and is now working at securing new industrial building development to fill the void.

Given its focused efforts in other areas – in 2010, Chatham-Kent’s municipal debt was $162 million, at the end of 2017 it is projected to be $87 million – Burton expects that void to be filled quickly.

“From historically significant sites, to multi-million dollar facilities, Chatham-Kent manages to marry the past with the present in a way that provides unparalleled opportunities for the future. A paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, we have one of the mildest climates in Canada…meaning our golfers hit the links about nine months of the year,” says Burton.

“Living the dream without breaking the bank sums up how most residents feel about Chatham-Kent. The beauty of the region, combined with the low cost of living, has made us very attractive to businesses looking to give their staff an ideal place to live, have fun and raise a family.”

For more information, visit http://www.chatham-kent.ca.

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