On an industrial property in the quiet Niagara community of Fort Erie, Ont., Abatement Technologies is set to break ground on a new 100,000-square-foot manufacturing space that will also serve as its new head office.
The world-renowned, family-owned company specializes in hospital-grade HEPA filtration systems that are a crucial part of COVID-19 containment efforts, and going all-in on a Niagara expansion to complement 10 other international locations was an easy decision.
“Geographically, there’s immense benefits for us,” said Justin Larsen, director of marketing and product innovation at Abatement Technologies. “Niagara has given us a good pool of talent to pull from.
“We have access to all the shipping lanes. We’re close to enough major airports that it’s easy for us to be connected to the globe.
“Operational costs, and cost to expand, is easier in Niagara than it is in the GTA … so we’re absolutely committed to staying in the community.”
These strategic advantages are key decision-drivers as class-leading companies from across southern Ontario are choosing to locate, relocate or expand into the Niagara region.
Niagara’s industrial, commercial and residential real estate prices are a fraction of Toronto’s, and in greater supply than crowded manufacturing markets like Hamilton.
But the location is ideal. Niagara’s urban communities are only an hour’s drive from the GTA and within 30 minutes of the U.S. border. Fort Erie is just across the border from upstate New York, so close that Larsen jokingly calls it a “suburb” of Buffalo.
Niagara’s access to hundreds of skilled tradespeople, and graduates from leading post-secondary institutions like Brock University in St. Catharines and Niagara College in Welland, are also major attractions.
And the region’s low cost of living, high quality of life and tight-knit sense of community are all carefully considered by companies who see a link between contentment and productivity.
“Niagara is a natural opportunity,” said Jeremy Dunn, commercial vice-president of the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA). “There is precious little industrial land available around Toronto, and Niagara is just such an easy option. It’s a natural solution.”
HOPA manages a 200-acre multimodal industrial complex in Thorold, another Niagara community, adjacent to the Welland Canal, that connects Ontario manufacturers to markets across North America and around the world.
The canal is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway system, which connects overseas markets to ports along the Great Lakes, and to any other market in North America through an integrated marine, rail and highway transportation network.
HOPA’s multimodal hub in Thorold includes more than 500,000 square feet of warehouse space with tenants like Tora Inc. from St. Catharines, a manufacturing company that specializes in sorting, assembly, warehousing and other services.
Tora reached an agreement in early 2021 to use 60,000 square feet in the sprawling facility, which Dunn predicts will be fully-occupied within 10 years.
“This expansion is an important next step in our business growth,” said Scott DeMont, general manager and partner with Tora Inc. “From this new facility we are better able to provide our growing customer base with a wider range of services.”
Niagara has a proud history as an industrial centre, and the manufacturing sector has seen a steady resurgence since the recession of 2008. But the region is also a favoured expansion and relocation site of a diverse group of investors from biotechnology, professional services, agri-business and many other industries.
“Being in Canada is a plus, but being in Niagara is super-plus,” said Dr. Yousef Haj-Ahmad, a molecular geneticist and Brock professor who started the biotechnology company Norgen Biotek in 1998.
Norgen Biotek is located in Thorold, within walking distance of Brock, and is preparing a 50,000-square-foot expansion that will be used as a COVID-19 testing site, and for manufacturing world-class biotech materials.
Haj-Ahmad cited proximity to Toronto and the U.S. border as key advantages, along with a strong talent base that includes several Brock students who have started their careers at Norgen Biotek.
“And then, the fact that people know each other in a small community,” he added. “They are very helpful and supportive. You don’t get this in the large cities.”
Accenture, a leading global professional services company, is the source of another major Niagara success story. In 2019, the company opened a newly renovated 68,000-square-foot property in downtown St. Catharines that will serve as a global centre of excellence for its growing intelligent sales and customer operations business.
“We’re a people business, so talent was at the heart of the decision,” said Jeffrey Russell, president of Accenture in Canada. “The quality of life and the quality of talent is a nice coexistence. It creates satisfied employees as our business continues to grow, and we look to hire to serve our clients.”
As world-class companies continue to expand, relocate and do business in Niagara, established firms are happily setting down roots in a supportive community that has eagerly embraced them.
“We’re committed to the region, and we anticipate continued growth,” said Russell. “And it’s working. We’re absolutely seeing the kind of opportunities we were hoping to.”
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Niagara Economic Development.