The Ontario government has contributed approximately $1 million to the expansion of a Leamington greenhouse company which will help create 203 jobs by the end of 2019.
Lakeside Produce Inc. has added 80,000 square feet to its production facility, said company president Chris Cervini. The total cost of the project is almost $7 million.
Cervini said the expansion is meant to increase exports to the Americas and especially Asia, with the company’s total production volume doubling over the next three to five years.
“We have to take good flavoured fruit and be able to package it properly for longer travel times as we look to grow our market share,” said Cervini during a Tuesday news conference.
Respiration control – or improving the time before fruit dehydrates – is the key to shipping these products long-distance, Cervini said.
The company also grows and ships bell peppers, cucumbers and specialty tomatoes.
Jeff Leal, Ontario minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, made the announcement and called Lakeside “a leader in supplying quality produce to international markets.”
He said the investment, which comes from the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund, is good for Ontario’s economy because it helps with innovation, improves productivity and increases exports.
“We have to deal with some barriers to get into the Chinese market, but once you’re in the Chinese market you establish your reputation,” said Leal. “They just buy your product in very large quantities.”
Cervini said the company has already hired 40 new employees this year and will reach the full 203 by the end of 2019 with its workforce increasing each quarter. He said there are also plans to expand beyond 2019.
As well, Leal said this project helps retain the 312 existing positions at Lakeside.
Cervini said the pay scale of these jobs range from $11 an hour to executive salaries.
Leamington Mayor John Paterson said this announcement is “good news for everyone” even with some of these being lower-paying jobs.
“A lot of these jobs are good high-paying jobs in the greenhouse industry and most people don’t realize that because you have your scientists, you have your growers, and they’re all paid significant money,” he said. “This is a great industry to have in our town.”
Paterson said the local economy has come a long way since the H.J. Heinz Company announced the closure of its Leamington facility in November 2013, putting about 700 employees in jeopardy.
He credits this to the work of town council and administration and especially the business community.
Along with this announcement of 203 jobs, Highbury Canco, which took over the Heinz facility in 2014, will have over 400 workers by the end of the year, said Paterson.
“We’ve had a number of our local employers already expand and we’re aware of some other expansions happening this year too,” he said. “There’s anywhere from the hiring of 10 employees up to 50 employees in each one of those instances, so we’re ahead of where we were.”