Smiths Falls: History and forward looking attitude combine to create innovative business opportunities

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    Ontario Construction Report special feature

    Priorities: Skills development, research and transportation systems

    Located along the historic Rideau Canal, Smiths Falls is steeped in history dating to the late 1700s. It is a thriving community that combines a respect for the past with a forward look to the future.

    Economic development manager Cyril Cooper says opportunities for businesses in the town include good sized available buildings at a reasonable cost, beautiful historic brick homes at great prices, a skilled workforce ready and wanting to work and a balance of small town living combined with easy access to Ottawa and more urban experiences, just 40 minutes away.

    He says the town’s Downtown Business Association has been doing a great job of identifying opportunities and coming up with ideas including a new streetscaping scheduled for 2018.

    The community boasts a state-of-the-art arena with a walking track, beautiful park systems in town and along the canal, and abundant tourist opportunities including the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario and the Heritage House Museum.

    “For a town of 9,500 people there is a lot going on here. Our local celebrities Brook (2016 Women’s PGA Champion) and Brittany Henderson have put us on the map internationally and we’re so proud of them and so proud to have their family as part of our community.”          

    Cooper highlighted just some of the businesses, opportunities and changes happening in the town recently.

    Infrastructure

    Stone arch bridge

    A historic stone arch bridge connecting the downtown core, Centennial Park and the Rideau Canal basin and Hwy. 15 is undergoing a $2 million rehabilitation, including key structural repairs and pathway enhancements.

    “The repair work comes from a pragmatic need since the bridge is the entranceway to the downtown but the enhanced new look will also highlight the bridge’s historic significance. Its strategic location next to the Parks Canada office means it is a focus for both residents and tourists.”

    Sand/salt shed

    A new sand/salt shed has been constructed as part of an overall focus to centralize winter control operations. Moving these road maintenance materials indoors allows the town to meet federal Code of Practice for Environmental Management of Road Salts, and will allow the municipality to significantly reduce the amount of salts mixed into sand stockpiles.

    “The new capability will also mean less salt on our streets which is better for infrastructure and resident’s vehicles,” Cooper says.

    Hydro Park pedestrian structure replacements

    Replacing two of three existing pedestrian structures with new bridges will further enhance a park experience and a pedestrian active transport linkage between the town’s downtown core and Lombard business district. The bridge’s construction with carbon fibre material will ensure low maintenance and long life.

    Davidson Courtyard

    A key part of Smiths Falls’ infrastructure is its history. The Davidson Courtyard downtown is one example. Once home to the well known Davidson Bakery, the courtyard is a popular destination for shopping and dining in Smiths Falls.

    The courtyard was granted one of the town’s Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grants, and will be the beneficiary of a number of renovations and improvements to maintain the location’s local importance for many years to come.

    Work included much needed improvements to the brick façade, central courtyard area, signage and renovations and upgrades to a former restaurant at the site. Improvements recalled the building’s industrial heritage, specifically the restoration of the flour elevator, a critical component to the original bakery. The elevator is to be cleaned and painted as a visible reminder of the Davidson Bakery’s industrial background; a small historical information plaque will help visitors connect with the site’s heritage.

    “Through our CIP we can offer discount permit fees, discounted or matching funds for façade improvements, discounted remediation on brownfield sites and a tax incentive on land improvements. As an added incentive, we have attractive water rates and no development charges,” says Cooper.

    Water treatment plant

    The town discovered that the solution to an aging water treatment plant is to build a new structure. This creates an opportunity to redevelop the plant’s former location in a prime space near the stone arch bridge and along the canal.

    Cooper says the town has been looking at several mixed-use opportunities for the building and land and the next phase is to bring it to market.

    Business

    Le Boat

    Europe’s largest self-driving boat company, Le Boat, announced in 2016 that Smiths Falls will serve as the company’s first North American operations base in 2018. The company will invest $16 million in “Le Boat infrastructure that includes the length of the canal from Ottawa to Kingston.”

    Its operations in Smiths Falls will initially include 16 state-of-the-art Horizon cruisers, and the intent is to grow the fleet to 32 over the next five years, according to a media release.     

    “The new Le Boat base on the Rideau Canal is expected to attract thousands of vacationers of all ages from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France and many other locations around the world, and contribute millions of dollars to the local economy through tourism, job growth, and supply chain support.”

    Cooper says the announcement is the result of extensive work and the combined result of federal, provincial and municipal efforts. “When it launches, Le Boat will create local jobs and business opportunities as people pass through and spend time Smiths Falls.”

    Kilmarnock Enterprise

    Opened in 1981, Kilmarnock Enterprise has been operating from Smiths Falls since 2002 and continues to grow and evolve its business and workforce.

    Offering a range of maintenance and millwright 24/7 on-call services for industry, the company originally located in the town as “part of building a culture for employees – encouraging a loyal workforce by offering a less urbanized environment in which to live.”

    President Isabelle Belot-Graveline has been quoted as saying that the company uses its location as a recruitment tool. “Come to a community that has all of these features. You’re not going to get the big city vibe, but you’re going to get clean air, clean water, amazing roads and bicycling paths, great hospitals and schools – all within walking distance.”

    She says the opportunities the town offers, for her business and others like hers are invaluable. “We have a lot, we really do. We have a lot of industrial space and land available. We have an amazing transportation network, the train and even a little airport. Every single major eastern Ontario road comes into town. We have the river. It’s quality of life.”

    Guildline

    Established in Smiths Falls in 1957, Guildline Industries continues to be a world-class, industry leading manufacturer for the metrology (measurement science) industry. The company designs, patents and manufactures items including voltage references, resistance standards, resistance bridges, current references and standards, nanovoltmeters, teraohmmeters, precision wattmeters, and transconductance amplifiers.

    President Richard Timmons said the company ships 98 per cent of its products outside of Canada so proximity to major highways, and the U.S. border, has been crucial.

    He said that the enviable rural lifestyle and cost of living in the Smiths Falls area is also an attractive aspect of working for Guildline. “The feedback I get from the employees is that it’s about one third or less the cost to live here than to live in Ottawa. The other thing I hear is that people like to live and work in a small town. They like the sense of community, the fact that the schools are smaller, and everyone knows everyone else,” he said.

    Gallipeau Centre

    One of the town’s greatest turnaround stories has been the Gallipeau Centre, a 351-acre parcel with 800,000 sq. ft. of multiple-use structures that rose up when the provincial government closed the former Rideau Regional Centre.

    Today the centre includes an Excelerator Business Centre, a resource for small and home-based business owners and home to many local non-profits.

    A variety of businesses have also taken up residence including NuWhirl, an international producer of whirlpool baths and bath products, whose products are designed, engineered, and tested here.

    Hart Laundry Services has been located at the Gallipeau Centre since 2011 and has the capacity to process five million pounds of laundry every year. Using environmentally-friendly products for cleaning, laundry items are properly washed and dried and then folded through automation. The commercial laundry provides services to nursing homes, hospitals, hotels, summer camps and more.

    Hilton’s Aqua Green Dispositions is an eco-friendly, water based cremation service that uses a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, heat, and pressure, as a “green” alternative to flame based cremation. It is the only company of its kind in Ontario offering these services.

    MemPore Environmental Technologies Inc. are leaders in oil recycling technology. Using nano-filtration membranes, the company has developed a method of purifying used lubricating oil.

    The Two Rivers Food Hub connects buyers with local food producers, providing support for small farmers and food product entrepreneurs in Lanark, Leeds and Grenville counties. This not-for-profit helps with wholesale aggregation and distribution as well as providing facilities and food production equipment for rent, on site at the Gallipeau Centre. Their commercial kitchen, processing and storage equipment are available to members of the Hub.

    Tweed

    Another turnaround success has involved Canopy Growth’s Tweed, a medical marijuana manufacturer which located in the former Hershey factory, turning Smiths Falls into the epicentre of cannabis innovation.

    The campus is the largest indoor marijuana growing facility in the world, employing more than 200, with an extensive research and development facility. Oil extraction, an in-house quality assurance lab and the industry’s only seed breeding area are all important additions to Tweed’s Smiths Falls campus.

    “Tweed has been great for the community and a great supporter of the community. The legalization of marijuana will be a game changer for the company and our community as tourism and opportunities for supply chain grow.”

    Valley Custom Cutting

    Valley Custom Cutting combines a butcher shop, retail outlet for fresh meat and a full-service meat processing plant. The location includes a retail shop at the front, and a meat processing plant at the back that can handle both inspected meat and wild game.

    The business enables local producers to have their animals custom butchered and packaged to their specific requirements, and a retail outlet that provides customers with locally raised meats, that can also be custom cut to the buyers’ particular needs.

    Wonton Crunch

    Wonton Crunch manufacturers wontons with a variety of fillings including savory and sweet.

    Owner Prim Singh appeared on the television show Dragon’s Den to promote the

    product concept, which has included proprietary and highly innovative production machinery and developing a wide variety of wonton flavour options.

    Wontons produced here are flash frozen and packaged for wholesale to a growing list of retail outlets.

    Niche industry

    Cooper says Smiths Falls is also home to a vast number of niche businesses, including C’est Tout bakery, specializing in homemade, made from scratch menu items that range from soups and sandwiches to baked goods.

    My Place Restaurant, described as reminiscent of a European-style Cheers, features “authentic European dishes with a comfortable ambiance.”

    For more information, visit/www.smithsfalls.ca/economic-development.

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