Marijuana project an expected stimulant for Chesterville

The IDP Group's factory property in Chesterville, the former Nestlé plant. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Smiths Falls experience points the way

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

CHESTERVILLE —  Chesterville’s entry into the exclusive marijuana factory club of Eastern Ontario should stimulate the local economy and create new opportunities here, according to the mayor of Smith’s Falls, the town that led the way by famously replacing cocoa with cannabis.

“Very positive. It benefited us, and I assume, for a smaller community like Chesterville and the surrounding area, it’s going to create opportunities. How many people in that area would prefer to have a job close to home, rather than commuting into the city everyday?” Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow told Nation Valley News.

Shut down by Hershey in 2009, the former chocolate plant in Smiths Falls was revived three years ago as the home of a large-scale, multi-million-dollar medicinal marijuana production facility for Canopy Growth Corp.

A parallel situation has just begun to unfold at Chesterville’s former instant coffee plant, where Vancouver-based Cannabis Wheaton Income Corp. intends to invest $12-million on an initial 100,000-square-foot grow operation inside the 171 Main Street North facility. Plans revealed on Friday suggest 300,000 square feet will eventually go into pot production at the site owned by IDP Group Inc. — which has entered into a strategic partnership and agreement with Wheaton.

Smith Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow. Facebook photo

A dozen years after Nestlé left the village, kiboshing 300 jobs, Chesterville appears to be on the cusp of a Smiths Falls-style renewal — assuming the involved parties complete  due diligence aspects of their announced deal and move ahead.

“If you look at where we were after the Hershey plant closed … there had been no jobs replaced, and not a lot of reason for optimism,” recalled Pankow, telling a story with definite echoes for Chesterville.

The former chocolate factory now employs close to 400 people in his community, with approximately 160,000 square feet currently dedicated to growing pot. If not for the arrival of the marijuana business, the factory “may still be sitting vacant today,” the mayor suggested.

“It’s been incredibly positive. We’ve garnered national news, global news, in many cases, since this has all happened,” he said, noting that Premier Kathleen Wynne singled out Smiths Falls as “a community on the rise” just the other week at the recent Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference.

The plant operator has been “very supportive of the community,” Pankow added. “They hire locally when they can. Right now, they have about 45 jobs posted, and that’s been pretty constant. So we’ve got a lot of local people who are working there, as well as a people who are moving to our community because of the employment opportunities at Canopy.”

Those wages go back into the town’s economy and broader region, he said, also highlighting a resulting strong market for housing in Smiths Falls. “We’re seeing greater demand for homes. We’re seeing prices moving up. We’re seeing bidding wars in some cases.

“There’s been renewed interest in commercial property in town as well. So I think, overall, there is definitely some economic stimulus that is coming out of this.”

“We’ve got a new school that’s being built right now, a JK to 8 Catholic school, which I think is a positive if you’re looking to move to a community.”

Full-time employees with stock options have also seen their fortunes rise, he pointed out, as Canopy’s share price rose from $2 into the mid-thirties in the last couple of years. “We know that when people are exercising their options, they’re building a future for themselves. They’re paying off mortgages, they’re buying homes, they’re buying vehicles, and a lot of that money comes back into our community.”

The town also collects more industrial property taxes off the factory building now that it’s no longer vacant, he said.

Being associated with marijuana output has also helped spur tourism opportunities that Smiths Falls hopes to capitalize on. The mayor highlighted how European luxury boat renter ‘Le Boat’ chose the town this year as its North American headquarters and base for a new fleet of yachts. Pankow attributed this decision in part to Canada’s upcoming legalization of recreational pot on July 1 — if not on the presence of the factory itself. The change in law “will help attract global tourists to Canada, and so they look at the opportunity to bring these people in and rent a boat for a week so they can enjoy the historic Rideau Canal.”

In a bid to attract even more tourists, Smiths Falls continues to lobby the province to permit a marijuana factory outlet — or an agency store —  that would sell product to the public visiting the town. They’ve been denied so far. “If that happens, of course, that’ll be a big draw for people from throughout Eastern Ontario and even further, probably.”

North Dundas mayor weighs in

Hamed Asl, co-owner of the former Nestlé plant in Chesterville, cradles a bottle of Nescafe — part of a small stash of old product discovered at the property. Nestlé made instant coffee at the plant for decades until the Swiss multi-national shut down it down in 2006. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan described the impending Chesterville development as “good news for the former Nestle plant and our community.”

“With the legislation of cannabis in Canada happening this year, this is an example of how money is being taken out of the black market, and creating jobs and doing it safely,” Duncan said.

Noting the plant is “zoned for this type of development,” he pledged the township will work with the proponents “to make it happen.”

Duncan also cautioned: “It should be noted that this announcement is in its early stages. They have a lot of licensing and financing aspects to work out, but it’s definitely good news and a step in the right direction.”

“It sounds like an economic opportunity,” said local MPP Jim McDonell, noting that legalization is “upon us in July.”

Hamed Asl, owner and partner in the IDP Group, said he would be speaking with local media later this week on the deal with Cannabis Wheaton Income Corp. “I’ve just got to do a few little pieces this week to make sure we’ve got all the t’s and dots crossed,” Asl explained.

A new IDP Group subsidiary — CannabisCo — would handle marijuana production at the 373,000 square foot factory site, according to a press release issued by Wheaton last week.

In the release, Asl expresses excitement to be working with the “industry-leading Wheaton team on this transformational project for our community.”

“This project is a tremendous opportunity for all stakeholders involved while also providing exposure for our modular farming system and other proprietary technologies, which we believe have the potential to enhance the value of Wheaton and its streaming partners.”

The parties expect to complete a “definitive agreement” within 60 days. The deal is also subject to securing regulatory approval.

Social media reaction

News of the impending deal has sent a buzz through Chesterville, sparking various observations on Facebook.

“Best news this town has heard in a long time. Finally a something coming to Chesterville instead of one moving or closing,” wrote Dinos Pavlounis.

“Woohoo! Now people will know where Chesterville is!” Chris Lemieux posted.

“Great news for jobs in our community!” exclaimed Carol Munro.

“Wow that’s going to double Chesterville’s current output lol,” quipped Mike Huizenga.


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