Here is my latest column from The Times, where I examine entrepreneurship in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario. While the column is about people and “place”, I believe many of the stories I write about can happen in many rural communities across the globe.
When I think of businesses in Prince Edward County, I think of the service industry, tourism, small scale industry, agriculture, wineries and the undulating pastoral landscape.
I recently met with Ben Doornekamp who is leading the development of Essroc’s neighbouring property the Picton Terminal. Their Great Lakes shipping facility is very much an industrial scale site. When I visited, there were many two story high industrial trucks moving gravel, a 4 story ship loading bin, piles of aggregate, salt and other materials, gravel road building to handle heavy loads of truck traffic and much more.
Ben and his family have a long term vision to develop the shipping business. They are aiming to fill a void in the market place. Their focus is to improve the bottom line of their customers by lowering transportation costs on large volumes of bulk product and raw materials such as clinker, bauxite, salt, gypsum, limestone aggregate, etc.. Shipping is a lower cost, more efficient way to move bulk products from eastern Ontario to regional and global markets and vice versa. Most ports are getting more and more difficult to truck into to because they are in congested populated cities, shipping avoids the congestion.
For 50 years the property served as a shipping depot for iron ore that came from Marmora. The deposit of iron ore was so big and profitable that the mine owners built a rail line with a lifespan of 50 years and a shipping facility to deliver the iron ore to its costumers via the Great Lakes. When the ore was gone, they shut the railway, which is now the Millennium Trail, and the shipping docks as planned.
The Doornekamp family have had their eye on the property for about a decade and had an option to purchase the property when it became available. It did, they acquired it and now they have invested about five million dollars to upgrade the facility as part of a long term plan.
They are building new roads and access. They have improved the docks which were in remarkably good shape. They were built for horizontal loads (ships docking) and needed vertical load capacity and of course they need customers. They are off to a good start, both Essroc and Lafarge are customers and they are talking to Miller Paving, Anderson Farms and Beatty Seeds as potential customers as well as others. They are targeting customers with bulk product as far west as Oshawa before traffic congestion gets too heavy and going as far east as Prescott and possibly the Quebec border. Their 80 acres of land offers storage options that many of these companies don’t have access to.
They are community minded, wanting to have good relations with their neighbours. They have held 2 open houses to date to help people understand what they are doing on the property. Ben and his brother are young guys in their early 30’s and plan on being here a long time. They want to be able to walk into Tim Horton’s and be seen as good neighbours.
Like all business they have invested in efficient labour saving equipment. The shipping business is seasonal and will employ 5 – 10 people at peak times. This business is a great example of repurposing existing assets to capitalize on market opportunities. It takes a bold vision, deep pockets and a certain amount of risk to be pursuing a significant investment like this. It’s good to see entrepreneurs investing in big ideas like this in Prince Edward County.
I work with companies throughout their life cycle – from start ups, to expansions to exit strategies and the sale of the company. My clients are from the private sector and public sector including economic development and tourism based organizations.
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