Group of business leaders releases 2nd open letter in favour of region's Wilmot land acquisition

The group BESTWR released a second open letter in support of the Region of Waterloo's plans to buy land in Wilmot township for future industrial use. (Karis Mapp/CBC - image credit)
The group BESTWR released a second open letter in support of the Region of Waterloo's plans to buy land in Wilmot township for future industrial use. (Karis Mapp/CBC - image credit)

A group of local business leaders who support the Region of Waterloo's plans to purchase land in Wilmot township for future industrial purposes have released a second open letter.

BESTWR is made up of the heads of local chambers of commerce, the Waterloo Economic Development Corp., Communitech and Explore Waterloo Region.

"An important discussion is underway on assembling land in Wilmot township so the region has the option to consider multi-billion dollar investment opportunities that we have been missing out on for over a decade," reads the letter, released Monday afternoon. "Everyone should be welcomed to the debate and to express their views."

Six landowners received notices on March 12 that the Region of Waterloo wants to buy their farmland. If they do not sell, the land will be expropriated.

In total, the region is pursuing 770 acres of land in Wilmot Township near the intersection of Nafziger Road and Bleams Road, south of New Hamburg.

The landowners and supporters have held meetings and spoken before both regional and township council about concerns with the region's plans for the lands. Their concerns have also reached politicians at the provincial and federal level. Most recently, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles visited the township for a town hall meeting.

Premier Doug Ford has said he's not aware of specific plans for the land and Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade of Ontario Vic Fedeli has said land in Wilmot township was not part of an announcement by Honda last week to expand its Ontario facilities to make electric vehicles.

The region has not said what the lands are for, or whether there are plans for the area beyond saying it would become industrial.

New letter asks people to use 'common set of facts'

BESTWR initially wrote an open letter to support the region's plans on April 5.

The new letter on Monday says that as people debate the merits of the project they should use a "common set of facts."

The group says those facts include:

  • Over 10 years ago, the Schneider's plant left the community because the region did not have a suitably large site ready to accommodate the needs of Maple Leaf Foods. Instead, the facility was built in Hamilton.

  • The region lost potential investments by Dr. Oetker and Ferrero Rocher for the same reason.

  • For more than a decade, the business community has raised concerns there were no large sites for billion-dollar investments.

  • For the last three years, the Waterloo Economic Development Corporation "has made this an issue of urgent concern at their open, public information sessions, and have raised this in council chambers as well. No secret, no surprise. All provincial MPPs, federal MPs and municipal politicians are invited to their annual public information meeting."

  • The region's official plan says the region "is clearly mandated to assemble land for purposes of investment and jobs."

  • In 2019, the province issued the Job Site Challenge to get the region thinking about how it could build into "the economic powerhouse we're capable of becoming."

CBC News reached out to Schneider's to confirm the reasons why their new facility was not built in Waterloo region but the company declined to comment on the specifics.

"While we cannot comment on any specific area that may have been considered, at Maple Leaf Foods we regularly review our network of operations," the company said in an emailed statement.

"We make decisions on where to build our facilities based many factors, including convenience of location for our supply chain, local workforce availability, land development opportunities, services and much more."