After decades of neglect, Hamilton, Ont., is gaining attention as an export hub.
Money is flowing into the port as companies peg Hamilton as a good location to base trade in crop and food products from Western Canada going to markets in eastern North America and overseas.
“If you have extra capacity in a place like Hamilton, then if you’re looking to do exports, Hamilton is probably the place to be,” said Neil Townsend, a market analyst with G3 Canada.
G3 is building a 50,000 tonne grain export terminal in Hamilton, reportedly costing more than $50 million.
Parrish and Heimbecker announced in December that it was building a $45 million flour mill beside its four year old grain terminal at the port.
The P & H grain facility is unusual in Canada, consisting of two concrete domes, each capable of holding 28,000 tonnes.
Richardson International spent $5 million to expand its terminal there in 2012 and Bunge has an oilseed crushing plant.
There’s also a sugar plant, a brewery and crop input terminals operating at the Port of Hamilton.
For the port authority, it’s been a pleasant development. Long known as Canada’s steel town, Hamilton suffered as that industry declined.
“That business is softening somewhat, and we saw the writing on the wall a few years ago and have been cultivating agri-food as a really big opportunity in Ontario,” said Larissa Fenn, the port’s communications manager.
By 2017 more than $200 million in new investment will have been made in agriculture and food related facilities in Hamilton in a decade, making it clearly southern Ontario’s grain trade hub.
It’s close to the bulk of Ontario’s corn, soybean and wheat growing areas, so it’s an easy place for farmers and truckers to deliver to. It’s also handy for imported crop supplies to go the other way.
Townsend said it makes sense to process products in southern Ontario, like P & H is doing, be-cause “that is where people live. You’ve got markets there.”
The local Ontario market is good, and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway give easy access to the U.S., Europe and beyond.
The area also isn’t subject to the same vulnerable reliance on rail lines that Western Canada suffers. Rail comes in from more directions, but cargoes can be shipped by boat and truck as well.
The port is close to Europe, where Ontario’s soybean shipments already go.
“That’s the first destination for most grain going through here,” said Fenn.
If the Canada-European Union trade agreement is made final, more wheat and other crops could flow from southern Ontario to Europe, so Hamilton is well-situated.