Nestled on the banks of the majestic St. Lawrence River, the City of Cornwall had long prospered as a manufacturing hub of Eastern Ontario.
Courtaulds Canada, Inc., which had set up shop in 1925, led a thriving cotton processing industry, employing nearly 3,000 in its heyday.
Domtar Inc., operating a paper mill on the same site the Toronto Manufacturing Company had established in 1881, had nearly 1,500 on the payroll.
However, when the global economy stalled and manufacturing jobs dried up in the 1990s, Cornwall, like so many other Canadian communities, struggled. Courtaulds was shuttered in 1992.
On March 31, 2006, Domtar also shut its doors for the last time. It marked the end of an era for Ontario’s most easternmost city.
Economic giants targeting Cornwall properties
Fortunately for Cornwallians, however, the city had already begun to reinvent itself in the 1990s, largely as a major logistics and distribution centre attracting economic giants such as Wal-Mart, Shoppers Drug Mart, and now retail giant Target has set its sights on town.
Target, which bought the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Zellers stores and is opening more than 100 stores across Canada, is set to open its distribution centre in mid-2013 as part of its foray into the Canadian market.
The centre, being built on 169 acres of land, will hold a 1.3 million square foot facility at the Cornwall Business Park. The plan was sweetened with partnership with local government when council approved about $4-million in infrastructure improvements there to help welcome the new business.
It is part of a three-distribution centre plan for the company across Canada. Target also has a smaller facility in Milton, Ont. with 165 loading docks.
The new warehouse for Western Canada is in Balzac, Alberta on a parcel of land half the size of the Cornwall facility. But the Alberta centre still is massive enough to cover 22 football fields. Clearly, Target has major distribution plans in store for the Cornwall facility.
Wal-mart distribution centre in Cornwall, Ontario
“Access to land/real estate, accessibility to railroad and highway transportation infrastructure and a dynamic workforce in the Cornwall area made the location ideal for a major distribution hub,” Target spokeswoman Lisa Gibson explains.
The boost to the local economy as a result of the city’s rebranding has resulted in a lower-than-average unemployment rate of approximately four per cent.
And now, Cushman & Wakefield Ottawa sales representatives Stacey Shields and Peter Earwaker are attempting to lure other big fish to the area with a 640-plus parcel of commercial property just west of Cornwall in the South Stormond town of Long Sault.
“We have had some discussions, but I don’t think I should say what companies those are,” Earwaker says of the property. “There is some interest. We think for that land, the time is now. It is really the sweet spot for distribution centres in Eastern Ontario.
Banking on business park’s success
“(The Cornwall Business Park) has been a huge success. These lands (for sale) want to take up that success and continue on with it.”
That’s welcome news to Cornwall Economic Development manager Mark Boileau.
“Any development that occurs in the Cornwall region is obviously beneficial for Cornwall as well,” says Boileau, noting that much of the workforce will be selected from among Cornwall’s 46,000 residents.
”There’s a fair amount of interaction between Long Sault and Cornwall. Cornwall tends to be the business centre for most of (the United Colonies of) Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.”
Location key to region
The property, being sold on behalf of TPM Holdings Inc, a group of local Cornwall investors, is bordered by Long Sault’s Moulinette Road to the west; by Highway 401 to the north; by the township of South Stormont’s Avonmore Road to the east; and by a Via Rail line to the south.
As it was for the Cornwall Business Park, location is key to the Cushman & Wakefield property.
“For logistics, you’re primarily concerned with access,” says Earwaker. “Do you have the possibility of rail and trucking access?”
“Also, because these lands are also quite close to the St. Lawrence River, the possibility of linking it up with a seaport also exists. So you’ve basically got what they call an intermodal location.”
The property is also approximately 16 kilometres from the Seaway International Bridge to the United States – “It’s much less congested than the Windsor crossing,” Earwaker says – but the main selling points may be the existing cloverleaf and the two-kilometre frontage on Highway 401.
Busiest piece of highway in Canada
“The busiest piece of highway in Canada would be Highway 401 between Montreal and Toronto,” Boileau say. “(This land) fronts onto that corridor, so much like Cornwall, they’d find themselves as a good location for the users who require large tracts of land.
“If you were to drive between Montreal and Toronto, it’s not as easy as you would think to find large tracts of land that are serviced and properly zoned.”
Two other advantages Cornwall and the Long Sault property share are relative low costs related to land and wages, the latter largely due to a relatively small organized labour force, particularly compared to the nearby province of Quebec.
The Long Sault property is listed as $10,625 per acre. A comparable property would sell for $300,000-$500-000 in Ottawa and even more in Toronto, Earwaker says.
Few environmental constraints
The fact that the Long Sault property is also relatively flat and dry is also a plus, according to both Earwaker and Boileau.
“Dry land is important because what you don’t want to have is environmental constraint areas, wetlands, those types of challenges,” Boileau says. “If you’ve got anything that’s of provincial significance in terms of wetlands or environmental constraints, that can certainly kill a project.”
An undulating property can also mean expensive cutting or backfilling to ensure warehouse floors are flat.
Best of all, as far as Earwaker is concerned, the area is definitely open for business.
“The Township of South Stormont and Long Sault are very supportive for new development,” says Earwaker, “so you’ve got a very warm, friendly situation there.”