Ontario sinks money into greenhouse sector

DRESDEN, Ontario — Job creation and economic activity are behind a Feb. 2 statement announcing more than $1 million in grants to an Ontario greenhouse company.

Lakeside Produce Inc., which also operates greenhouses and shipping facilities in California and Mexico, will use most of the money to expand its Leamington, Ont., warehouse by about two thirds to 120,000 sq. feet and upgrade equipment, according to Tariq Malik, director of marketing.

The remainder will be used to add another five to 10 acres to its greenhouse vegetable production.

Provincial government funding covers up to 15 percent of project costs under the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund. The expected cost of the project is close to $7 million.

It’s expected more than 200 new jobs will be created when the expansion is complete in 2019. The company already employs 312 at its Leamington operations, a mix of Canadians and offshore workers.

“We’ll be filling positions for general labourers to as high as executive jobs,” Malik said.

“Getting people into this industry is a bit of a challenge.”

Malik said workers filling ground level positions start at minimum wage. There are opportunities for advancement, and full-time employees receive a benefit package.

Plans for the expansion began two years ago, Malik said, well before the drop in the value of the Canadian dollar.

There are high levels of unemployment in southwestern Ontario communities. Tariq commutes to work from nearby Windsor, which has an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, down from 9.7 percent in December, according to Statistics Canada.

That’s the highest rate for any Canadian city.

Jeff Leal, Ontario’s agriculture minister, and Brad Duguid, minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure attended the funding announcement along with Chris Cervini, Lakeside’s president and chief executive officer.

Lakeside Produce was founded by the Cervini family in 1943. The company focuses on the production and marketing of greenhouse tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and other greenhouse vegetables.

The southwestern Ontario fund, along with the Eastern Ontario Development Fund have created and retained more than 38,000 jobs and attracted more than $1.6 billion in investment, according to an economic development ministry release from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

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