The general manager of one of the area's premier advocates for business growth says opportunities abound for the area, especially when it comes to development of bio industry in the area.
George Mallay, who heads the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, told members of the Rotary Club of Sarnia at their Monday luncheon that the area has come a long way since 1996, the early days of the organization he now heads.
"That was a time when we had 16 percent unemployment," said Mallay, who points to past success even though some of the 4,000 jobs created have since evaporated.
"We were successful in bringing in three call centres as well as Woodbridge Foam and UBE Automotive," he reminded his audience. "Yes, times changed and some of those are now gone, but the future is looking very bright."
In his presentation, Mallay reviewed some of the continuing initiatives that bode well for the area, including the re-branding of the Lanxess site, now called the Bio Industrial Park, where a Minneapolis-based company, BioAmber, will build a new 17,000 metric tonne bio-based succinic acid plant, with plans to double the output of the plant by 2014.
Succinic acid is used as a building block for a variety of products, including automotive parts, biodegradable coffee cup lids and disposable cutlery, spandex, shoe soles, ingredients for food, flavours and fragrances, cosmetics, construction materials, phthalate?free plasticizers, engine coolants, salts that melt ice and snow and plastics used in various durable goods.
Mallay said attracting BioAmber to the area was "a true team effort" involving virtually every level of government. BioAmber was said to have looked at dozens of sites before selecting Sarnia and the Bio Industrial Park for its commercial plant.
The BioAmber success story is quite likely one that will be repeated as word spreads among the industry focused on bio-based industrial products.
A conference being hosted in March by the Bioindustrial Innovation Centre, located at the UWO Research Park, Sarnia-Lambton, is one way for visibility for the area to grow, said Mallay, who added that creation of the BIC was "one of the smartest moves the community made."
Sarnia-Lambton, he added, is one of the few areas in Canada, or even elsewhere, that offers shovel-ready sites that combine the ability to take a venture from bench to full-scale commercial operations.
Another area where Mallay sees growth is in the integration of shale gas into existing operations such as Nova, which is working to convert its area facilities to run on natural gas.
But Mallay said local advocates aren't limiting their vision to one or even two areas.
"Another area that we're continuing to help develop is the metal fabrication industry, which is going to benefit from increased activity in the bio industrial sector," he said. "That industry will succeed as they learn how to do work for the smaller plants that will be built to meet a market demand for bio-based products."
Mallay said agriculture remains one of the strongest opportunities for value-added products, with farmers already experimenting with high-yield crops such as giant miscanthis, willow and oil seeds.
Mallay did admit the area has so far been unsuccessful in attracting the kind of new manufacturing operations related to green energy, a shortfall he says is at least in part due to problems in connecting prospective operations to the hydro grid.
"We had one situation where the operator would have installed a 250 kW rooftop solar array but we couldn't get them connected to the grid. That business went to the Greater Toronto Area instead."
Even with the disappointments, Mallay is positive the area will ultimately succeed.
"We're not willing to accept that a decline in our population is inevitable," he said. "We will turn around and be prosperous."