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Taking stock of local business: Mayors and Chief weigh in

Cathy Dobson Interest rates may be a challenge but mayors from across Sarnia-Lambton had generally good news about housing construction, expanding industry and business Thursday.
Chief Chris Plain welcomes about 80 people to Aamjiwnaang First Nation for the Chamber of Commerce’s first “State of Sarnia-Lambton Business” event. Beside him are: Enniskillen Mayor Kevin Marriott and Brooke/Alvinston Mayor David Ferguson. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Cathy Dobson

Interest rates may be a challenge but mayors from across Sarnia-Lambton had generally good news about housing construction, expanding industry and business Thursday.

All local mayors and First Nations chiefs had a rare opportunity to boast about major developments in their jurisdictions at a Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce breakfast held at Aamjiwnaang’s Maawn Doosh Gumig Community & Youth Centre.

Eighty people attended the sold-out event. All but five community leaders were there. Those who were absent included Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, Walpole Island Chief Dan Miskokomon, Dawn Euphemia Mayor Alan Broad, Lambton Shores Mayor Doug Cook and Warwick Mayor Todd Case.

Rounding out Thursday’s panel were from left: Oil Springs’ Mayor Ian Veen, St. Clair Mayor Jeff Agar, Point Edward Mayor Bev Hand, Plympton/Wyoming Mayor Gary Atkinson and Petrolia Mayor Brad Loosley. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Highlights from each municipality represented:

Aamjiwnaang First Nation – Chief Chris Plain talked about several new building projects including a triplex that will soon provide new housing across from the community centre. Plans are underway to build a two-bedroom hospice overlooking the St. Clair River. And Aamjiwnaang is in negotiations with Hydro One to acquire a 10% share of power transmission rights and establish a new revenue source. Contrary to popular belief, First Nations generate a large portion of their own capital to build houses and other amenities, said Plain. Aamjiwnaang has about $300 million in investments to generate revenue and is always looking for more revenue sources, he said.

Brooke-Alvinston - Mayor David Ferguson said agriculture continues to be the second biggest economic driver in Lambton County, with the petrochemical industry number one. More corporate farms are being established but Brooke-Alvinston still has large family-controlled farms. Meat production is increasing, said Ferguson.

Enniskillen – Mayor Kevin Marriott said agriculture is his municipality’s main industry. Enniskillen and Lambton County are one of the largest wheat producers in Ontario. Marriott said he predicts elevated real estate prices and interest rates will continue to be a challenge for farmers for some time to come.

“The feeling out there is that high interest rates are temporary,” said Marriott who is also Lambton County’s warden. “I myself don’t believe it’s temporary. It may not be as bad as it was in the 80s, but it’s also worse than some people want to believe.” He said he is concerned interest rates could rise as high as 8% from the current rate of 4.5%.

Petrolia – Mayor Brad Loosley said downtown vacancy following the pandemic is less than 7% in the oil heritage town. During Covid-19, Petrolia lost only two businesses and gained five, he said. “That’s an anomaly.”

Loosley said Victoria Playhouse continues to be a huge economic driver and attracted nearly 40,000 visitors in 2022, generating an economic impact of $21.6 million.

A recent downtown revitalization survey indicates that Petrolia residents would like a second grocery store and a hotel.

Plympton-Wyoming – Mayor Gary Atkinson called his municipality one of the fastest growing in Lambton County.

“We’re very fortunate but we’re not complete. We need more light industry,” said Atkinson. “And we want to enhance downtown Wyoming and increase business in Reece’s Corners.”

A new boat launch at Highland Glen Conservation Area is being built this year and a new committee is organizing a number of successful activities including Canada Day celebrations and park events, he said.

Point Edward – Mayor Bev Hand said the village is setting its 2023 budget on March 23 and she anticipates a challenging year due to increasing labour, material and insurance costs.

Proposed projects for the year include a new playground at waterfront park; reconstruction of St. Clair Street, which will include design work to slow traffic; 200 new homes at the end of Exmouth Street, as well as two six-storey apartment buildings; and a 52-unit apartment building on Venetian Boulevard.

The new owner of the former Holmes Foundry property is doing environmental assessment work and has “some very exciting plans” that have not been announced yet, Hand said.

St. Clair Township – Mayor Jeff Agar said his municipality is experiencing significant residential growth.

“The future of St. Clair Township has never been more promising,” Agar said, pointing to the expansion of Nova Chemical on Rokeby Line and impending construction of a new Diageo Crown Royal distillery.

Over the next three years, Diageo intends to spend $245 million to build the plant near Moore Line, and will be producing up to 20 million litres of absolute alcohol a year starting in 2025.

Oil Springs – Mayor Ian Veen said his village is quiet. “And that’s the way we like it. I think that’s the reason people like living in Oil Springs but we’re always looking for (business) opportunities too,” he said.

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