The Ontario government has invested $3-million in a new facility for a Maidstone tomato processing company, which is expected to create 40 new jobs in Essex County.
Thomas Canning Ltd. is planning a $13-million project designed to help the company export Utopia tomato products to Nigeria and China. The new facility is expected within three years, according to Thomas Canning president Bill Thomas.
“There’s a lot of work and some of this money will be spent in terms of putting a team together, putting a plan together and also building to brand more extensively in the export markets that we’re talking about,” said Thomas.
Thomas Canning currently employs about 25 full-time employees and 80 seasonal workers. The company’s existing plant will stay open and the new facility will be more technical and computerized, said Thomas.
“We know that these investments help stimulate growth in other parts of the agri-food sector, as food processors purchase the majority of the crops in Ontario. I think it’s about 65 per cent.” - Windsor West MPP Teresa Piruzza
Teresa Piruzza, Liberal MPP for Windsor West, said Thomas Canning was chosen specifically because it is committed to staying local. The company has had offers from larger companies to be bought out.
“We know that these investments help stimulate growth in other parts of the agri-food sector, as food processors purchase the majority of the crops in Ontario. I think it’s about 65 per cent,” said Piruzza.
Thomas Canning is a third-generation family business established in 1933.
The investment comes after the H.J. Heinz Company announced in December it would be closing the Leamington Heinz plan this June, leaving 740 full time employees out of work.
Thomas said he couldn’t guarantee whether these new jobs would go to former Heinz workers, but wouldn’t rule it out. Piruzza and Thomas also said his company could purchase up to 50 per cent of the tomato crop from Heinz farmers.
Although the 40 jobs won’t cover the loss in Leamington, the town’s mayor, John Patterson, said he hopes this investment means more opportunities later on.
“If on the negative side of things it has a ripple effect, I would say on the positive side it does too,” said Paterson. “There are a number of the supply chain businesses that we and the Windsor Essex Economic Development (Corporation) are working with now, so a plant expansion would give them an opportunity to move their work, what they used to do at the Heinz plant, to these situations.”
The new plant is expected to be built near Manning Road and Highway 3 in Maidstone. Patterson said he isn’t worried about people moving out of Leamington for these and any other new jobs.
“I know for city people, coming out to the county, seems like going to another country, but for county people, coming this way, it’s just a short drive,” said Patterson. “I would think people that are losing their jobs at Heinz in Leamington will maintain their houses ... and travel to these jobs, if they get them.”
Thomas said he hopes there will be other investors to help cover the $13-million needed for the expansion.