Southwestern Ontario could see at least $9 million be invested over the next few years into new start-up bioindustrial companies carrying job-creation hopes for a struggling regional economy.
Officials with Sarnia-based Bioindustrial Innovation Canada secured Thursday a $4.5-million loan from the County of Lambton to help create a $9-million pool – which includes federal dollars – to fund the creation of new bio-industrial technologies like the conversion of agricultural waste into industrial sugars to create “green” plastics and chemicals.
“I think there isn't anything more important for us right now, in Southwestern Ontario, in Sarnia-Lambton, than to be seen as a leader towards this new economy – a cleaner, a greener, and down the road, a sustainable economy,” Sarnia city/county Coun. Bev MacDougall said at Thursday's county council meeting.
Sarnia-Lambton leaders have been working for about a decade to diverse the largely petrochemical economy with the addition of bioindustrial plants.
These projects also have a spinoff economic effect on local farmers who will have new buyers for their agricultural waste, like corn stover and wheat straw.
“If we just think back 150 years ago to the discovery of oil in Oil Springs and the emergence of the petrochemical cluster in Sarnia-Lambton, what we're trying to do here is repeat the same thing,” said Sandy Marshall, executive director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada.
Since its inception in 2008, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada – a non-profit organization working to grow the industry – has invested in 14 projects, including BioAmber.
The $141.5-million Sarnia plant, which opened its doors in 2015, turns feedstock into succinic acid – a chemical that can be used in the production of everything from shoe soles and textiles to personal care products and paints.
Sarnia's BioAmber plant is the largest bio-based succinic acid plant in the world.
“We've created over 2,000 jobs in Sarnia due to the construction of BioAmber and other demonstration sites,” Marshall said.
Sarnia-Lambton has a chance to make history again with the possible construction of a Comet BioRefining celluolosic sugar plant on the TransAlta lands.
“When this happens, we'd be the first celluolosic sugar-to-glucose supply chain ever in the world, so this is a pretty exciting project,” Marshall said.
But not all Lambton County politicians were sold Thursday on what was billed as a “high risk” investment on the part of the county to support new bioindustrial technologies.
St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold pointed out Thursday county council wasn't provided with the specific details of the new start-ups that could be funded, including their locations.
While the federal funding has been specifically earmarked for Southwestern Ontario, Arnold said Marshall didn't “assure” council that the all monies will stay within Lambton County.
“That's a big concern for me, that we're subsidizing someone else's municipality,” Arnold said. “Why would we do that?”
In its history of receiving federal dollars, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada has spent half of those dollars in Sarnia-Lambton, Marshall noted.
“We need to focus on building up Sarnia-Lambton as a cluster, making it a success so it can be used as an example across Canada,” he said.
The County of Lambton was approached for the $4.5 million – which includes an immediate $1-million loan – in order for Bioindustrial Innovation Canada to be able to access the federal dollars that are part of a matching funds program.
While the County of Lambton is taking risk by providing this loan, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley urged county council before its vote Thursday to consider the benefits that have come out of the risks associated with investing in Lambton College and the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
“For years in this chamber and elsewhere, we've been asking the federal and provincial governments to invest in this region and in this community, and here's an opportunity,” Bradley said.
Council voted 27-7 in the county's weighted vote system in favour of the $4.5-million loan. Deputy St. Clair Township Mayor Peter Gilliland, Enniskillen Township Mayor Kevin Marriott, Dawn-Euphemia Township Mayor Al Broad and Arnold were opposed. Warwick Township Mayor Todd Case was absent from Thursday's vote.
- About Bioindustrial Innovation Canada -
Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) is a nationally focused not-for-profit organization based in Sarnia, Ontario. The Centre for Commercialization of Sustainable Chemistry Innovation (COMM SCI) acts as a hub for the commercialization of sustainable chemistry and bio-based innovation, providing businesses and technical support to participating small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in southern Ontario. COMM SCI was established with support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario’s (FedDev Ontario) Investing in Regional Diversification initiative with additional support from the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science. Bioindustrial Innovation Canada creates jobs and economic value sustainably for Canada. We provide critical strategic investment, advice and services to business developers of clean, green and sustainable technologies. Our expertise in commercialization builds a stronger Canada. For more information, visit http://www.bincanada.ca/