All about opportunity
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Ingersoll, Ontario for our focus on Growth and Economic Development in Canadian Towns & Cities
In the heart of southwestern Ontario, surrounded by scenic nature and farmland, the Town of Ingersoll offers the best of both worlds. With its ideal location on the provincial highway 401 corridor, this growing community is within an hour of larger cities, yet boasts all the charm of small town living.
In January of 2021, Ingersoll’s boundary was changed, creating an opportune situation for the community. As Mayor Ted Comiskey explains, “We now have another 1,550 acres of industrial, commercial and residential land entering into our boundaries, which is going to be a phenomenal plus for us. Especially sitting on the 401 the corridor from Windsor to Toronto, which is certainly one of the hotspots.” With this boundary increase, the town expects to draw the interest of major industries and create opportunities which were not previously possible due to a lack of available land.
The automotive industry is a major economic driver in Ingersoll, where the General Motors CAMI assembly plant employs 2800 people. The two million square foot facility has been in operation since 1989, and currently produces the popular Chevrolet Equinox. In January, General Motors announced that they will be producing their new BrightDrop EV600 light commercial vehicle at the CAMI plant, an astounding $1 billion investment in the facility. This fully electric van with a 250-mile capacity will be the first of its kind and will be exclusively manufactured in Ingersoll. Comiskey states, “This investment guarantees the future of our plant and employees, at least for the next 10 to 15 years. We don’t have to stress ourselves out with CAMI. We know that if a plant of that size redirects itself, it can have a devastating effect on a municipality. Now we are able to focus on other directions. That’s going to be very exciting for us.”
Provincial alliances and community partnerships are essential to the growth and success of Ingersoll, affording options to market the town on a larger scale. “We partner through a number of different organizations,” explains Curtis Tighe, Director of Economic Development. “The Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance is the main one. And then there are sub-sectors – the Ontario Manufacturing Communities Alliance, the Ontario Food Cluster and the Ontario Real Estate Alliance through the Economic Development Council of Ontario. Through these partnerships, Ingersoll, a community of 13,000 people, can market the town at a broad worldwide level. We meet with companies that are interested in investing in Ontario and Southwestern Ontario, and we market the area to them.”
As the Town of Ingersoll looks for new investment, they are targeting industries outside of the automotive sector, looking into food and building supplies as possible sectors. “We will most certainly accept auto investment and seek it out, but we are trying to diversify,” says Tighe. “We are in Canada’s industrial heartland in Ingersoll, we’re at the center of it. The 401 corridor gives us a lot of opportunity to attract investment, and manufacturing is our strength.” The Oxford Connections Group is a valuable community partner for the Town of Ingersoll, acting as a point of contact for companies looking to locate or expand into Oxford County, and connecting businesses to a long list of resources and information.
The convenience of an easy commute is a draw when it comes to attracting a skilled workforce, enticing people from outside of the community. Tighe describes, “The nice part about Ingersoll is that our commuting shed is actually extremely large. We don’t have the traffic jams that they have in the greater Toronto area, so we are able to draw talent from a lot broader area. We have employees that drive all the way from Sarnia to Ingersoll to work.” Organizations such as Workforce Development Partnership and the Local Employment Council work with the community to address workforce needs and shortages. “Most of the time, we are able to address the company’s needs and find them the right talent,” adds Tighe. “I think it’s our agricultural background that gives our people a strong work ethic. Many manufacturers have mentioned that the quality and the work ethic of our employees is second to none.”
As the town’s boundary has expanded, so has the need for housing in the community. Within the 1550 acres there is a potential plan for the development of 570 residential units. As the community grows, this will still leave a housing shortage, as Deputy Mayor Fred Freeman reports, “Even with those coming in, we will still have a shortage of residential lots, based on what we should have for a 20-year span. We would need to bring in at least two more developments for residential. The fact that we are 20 minutes from the City of London with 400,000 people, we are eight minutes from Woodstock with 40,000 people, and 45 minutes from Kitchener Waterloo, Cambridge, means there is great opportunity for many potential employees to have a short commute, but the Town of Ingersoll will certainly need more residential, and we’re going to have it. “
Replacing parts of an aging cast iron water system and upgrading roads are a few of the major infrastructure improvements the town has undertaken. Having money in reserves for upcoming projects, and taking advantage of federal and provincial infrastructure dollars, has allowed the community to make necessary improvements, and have ongoing maintenance. Mayor Comiskey refers to the quality infrastructure in the municipality as a point of pride, noting, “Our infrastructure is next to none as far as the county is concerned, and certainly beyond. Years ago, when deciding what to do with tax dollars, we decided to put them in reserve so that when opportunities arose through availability of infrastructure dollars, we could jump them, and boy we have.” The community has plans to purchase a $1.5 million aerial firetruck this year, also with reserves, as well as continuing with road improvements.
Ingersoll’s small businesses are well supported through resources like the Small Business Centre, in the neighboring city of Woodstock. This agency assists business owners with planning and mentorship. In Ingersoll, itself, Community Futures – a Government of Canada organization – offers financial assistance in the form of financing and loans. To assist businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the County of Oxford worked with Community Futures, offering loans and grants, helping to keep businesses alive and thriving. The town also worked with the Business Improvement Association to create a BIA Bucks program. Residents were able to purchase BIA dollars and receive a rebate of 20 percent on purchases, which was subsidized by the BIA. These dollars were to be spent in downtown Ingersoll and were redeemable in any downtown business. Tighe shares, “That was an extremely successful program, all businesses that participated loved the opportunity, and all the dollars stayed within downtown Ingersoll, they didn’t leak anywhere else. Anytime that you can measure a program and its successes is always good, and that one had over $100,000 impact in the downtown core.”
Downtown Ingersoll is a destination in Oxford County, with its century-old buildings and unique selection of shops and services. To protect and maintain the historic beauty, the town has a community improvement program (CIP) in place. This program assists with façade improvements, renovations, and expansions. A program is also available to encourage residential development downtown. To support restaurants through COVID, the Town of Ingersoll created a patio program, giving customers an opportunity to enjoy patio service when indoor dining was not available. “That was very successful,” says Tighe. “It allowed the businesses to survive and offer service to their customers. Council is very supportive of all businesses, big or small, whether its just starting out, or the business has been around for 100 years. Every business is important to the town, and we work closely to make it a positive environment and assist in any way that we can.”
The Town of Ingersoll is rich with opportunity and has much to look forward to, as they plan for the future. When asked where he sees the town in five years, Deputy Mayor Freeman replies, “Give us a call, and we will do this again!” Business View looks forward to taking him up on the offer and discovering what wonderful progress has been made.