July 5, 2018 – Paul Morden, The Sarnia Observer
Lambton County council voted this week to move ahead on a $500,000-investment with a Sarnia-based agency helping young companies start production of bio-based products.
It was part of a loan and investment arrangement the county agreed to last summer with Bioindustrial Innovation Canada so the agency could fully tap into matching federal funds.
Bioindustrial Innovation Canada is a government-funded agency that works to help new sustainable technologies reach the market.
The original deal called for the agency to receive a $2.5-million loan plus a $2 million investment by the county.
John Innes, general manager of the county division responsible for finances, said the agency said recently it was now only seeking a $500,000 investment, along with $2.5-million in loans.
On Wednesday, county council approved investments of $125,000 in Comet Biorefining, $250,000 in Origin Materials and $125,000 in Benefuel.
All three companies have plans to set up production sites in Sarnia.
The county will be taking on a portion of the agency’s investments in each of the three companies.
“It’s the economic direction we’ve chosen for the county and here was a chance to have investment in three of the corporations that are moving forward,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.
The agency is one of several organizations in Sarnia-Lambton that have been at work for several years attracting bio-industries to operate alongside the traditional oil refineries and petrochemical plants in what’s known as Chemical Valley.
Not all members of county council support the investments in the agency.
St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold, who was among those voting against the investments, said he’s concerned about the county taking on that role.
“I believe that private industry should be private,” he said.
“We’re starting the blur the lines of where we invest the dollars that we raise in taxes.”
Arnold also questioned why only a few companies should benefit from county support when many others are also investing and operating in the community.
“Those people don’t have an opportunity to have money given to them by the County of Lambton from the tax base,” he said.
Bradley said he understands the position of those questioning the county making that type of investment but added, “If we’re not in there, we’ll have more difficulty accessing other funds from the provincial and federal governments in the years ahead.”
Bradley said he points to the example of the “tremendous risk” the county and city took several years ago to buy the former Dow Chemical building to establish the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
“It has paid untold dividends,” he said.
The spending county council approved Wednesday is a “strategic investment in an industry we have picked to be our future,” Bradley said.