After auto-sector boom, Woodstock politicians eye economic diversity

Home to a major vehicle assembly plant and parts suppliers, Woodstock is looking to diversify its manufacturing base as it begins the early spadework to develop a new industrial park.

City council has cleared the path for industrial development of 136 hectares of land, a move one politician says underscores Woodstock's growing demand for more commercial real estate.

"(Toyota) definitely was the impetus for attracting other automotive supply, second-tier (and) third-tier businesses,” Coun. Bernia Martin said.

But Woodstock “is no longer just an automotive town,” Martin added.

“We really are diversifying in the variety of sectors that we're supporting, and that's a good thing.” Martin said. “In any economic blip or economic downturn, the more diverse you are, the more insulated your workforce is against catastrophe.”

Council’s support of the draft plan for the new municipal industrial park, which would be located on Highway 2 and Blandford Road, will keep work on the project moving forward. The plan includes space for industrial development, a section of woodland and wetlands and road access.

But development is still far off. City engineer Harold de Haan recently told politicians work would probably start in a year or two, “but it will probably take a good five years before you’ll see anything popping up on that land.”

The city already has spent four years undertaking necessary studies, reviews and receiving input from stakeholders and further approvals are still required from Oxford County and the provincial government.

For Martin, responsible growth strikes a balance between serving the existing workforce and welcoming new business. She pointed as an example to the city's purchase of 30 hectares of farmland from owner George Alyea in 2016, with shovels going in the ground now.

“What we're seeing currently is that the demand for land and for growth is exceeding the supply of land,” Martin said.

Economic development officials say the Alyea land buyers represent a wide swath of industries, from food processing to medical. The city's location, right off Hwy. 401 and near Hwy. 403, is a key to attracting industry.

Said Martin: “It's a unique time, in that businesses are looking to grow . . . to supply the demand for products for our residential growth."

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press