Held up more than a year by political fighting, an Ontario jobs fund to help recession-ravaged Southwestern Ontario is finally pumping money — and jobs — into the region.
The Southwestern Ontario Development Fund will create 800 jobs and help keep 3,400 others this year — and a chunk of those will be in London and area, the minister in charge said Friday.
“I see the fund as critical to the success of the region, including London,” Economic Development Minister Eric Hoskins said.
Friday, in Canada’s latest jobs report for May, London-St. Thomas checked in at 9.8% unemployment — still the highest big-city rate in Canada.
Promised by then-premier Dalton McGuinty during the last election in 2011, the fund was long delayed by political manoeuvering at Queen’s Park. It means while the money is flowing now, it’s long after the recession ended.
The fund will deliver $18 million to 22 Southwestern Ontario businesses this year, leveraging about $150 million from the private sector to help create jobs.
While it’s not yet known how many recipient businesses are from here, London-area industries are lining up for the cash.
Of the 22 already approved, there’s “a significant number” from the area, Hoskins said.
“These are specific, tailor-made for the regions. I am confident they will make a tremendous difference,” he said.
“I am a big fan because it is so bottom-up. We are encouraging business to think global and think local — it can make a difference.”
The fund’s local point person, Doug Reddick of the economic development ministry’s western region, said the London office has been “very busy.
“The money is starting to flow. A lot of companies are interested in making investments. It’s about job creation and encouraging organizations to look at innovation and market opportunities.”
The fund has already delivered $338,000 for a $3.5-million expansion to London’s Armo Tool, which will add 14 workers as a result, and $1.5 million to Lambton Conveyors in Wallaceburg, which will add about 100 workers.
But the Ontario Progressive Conservative party would review the fund, focusing instead on lowering business costs, said Monte McNaughton, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP and economic development critic.
"It’s a one off, the Liberals don’t think outside Toronto and they don’t have a long term plan to get Southwestern Ontario back on track," said McNaughton.
The Tories would lower energy costs and tackle the debt, he said.
Peter White, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp., said he believes “some good things” will come out of the fund.
“We know there are some real, strong opportunities,” he said pointing to manufacturing, digital media and agri-food businesses as area sectors looking for cash.
“(The fund) can really help the economy grow and increase employment.”
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ABOUT THE FUND
— Promised by the Liberals in Ontario’s 2011 election.
— $80M over four years to boost region’s economy.
— Aims to leverage private investment to create jobs.
— Follows a similar $1B federal fund for Southern Ontario.
TWO AREA RECIPIENTS
— Armo Tool got $338,000 for a $3.5-million expansion, creating 14 jobs.
— Lambton Conveyors Ltd., Wallaceburg, $1.5M, helping to create 100 jobs.
TO GET THE MONEY
— Employ at least 10 people
— Commit to creating at least 10 new jobs
— Be able to provide three years of operations/financial statements
— Be located in, or plan to locate in Southwestern Ontario
— Invest at least $500,000 in the project.
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SECTORS ELIGIBLE FOR FUNDING
— Advanced manufacturing
— Life sciences
— Information and communication technology
— Cultural industries.
Everything southwest of Hamilton: Brant, Bruce, Chatham-Kent, Dufferin, Elgin, Essex, Grey, Haldimand, Huron, Lambton, Middlesex, Niagara, Norfolk, Oxford, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington.