George Mathewson & Troy Shantz
Christmas came early on Friday when Nova Chemicals confirmed it is proceeding with an expansion and new petrochemical plant near Corunna worth $2 billion.
Yes, that’s billions with a “B.”
The world-scale project will create about 150 full-time manufacturing jobs, up to 1,400 construction jobs, and deliver a jolt of adrenaline to the local economy.
“To put it in perspective, this is the largest capital investment that’s been made in the Sarnia-Lambton region in history,” said Tom Thomson, Nova’s director of regional manufacturing.
The two projects will mean years of employment for skilled trades, spark an influx of workers and generate hundreds of additional spin-off jobs in other sectors, officials said.
Ontario is kicking in $100 million, the province’s second-largest manufacturing investment in a century, said Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Growth.
“This announcement is a game-changer here in Sarnia. It’s keeping this region on the map.”
Nova is already the region’s largest private employer, with 1,000 permanent employees and 300 contractors. The company’s three local facilities currently generate $144 million in salaries and benefits annually and contribute more than $42 million in income and property taxes.
But there was concern Nova would choose to build in the U.S., where environmental regulations are being gutted and a large corporate tax cut looms.
“The message is real — we won this one,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley. “It’s a ratification of the existing industry. When the construction trades in Sarnia work, the whole community works.”
The project itself has two parts, officials said.
The new plant on Rokeby Line in St. Clair Township will produce up to one billion pounds of polyethylene a year. Polyethylene is the world’s most common plastic and is used in everything from sandwich bags and cling wrap to bottles and coatings.
Site preparation has already begun with a start-up target of late 2021.
The second half of the project is an expansion next door at the existing Corunna “cracker” unit, which will provide ethylene feedstock to the new plant.
The cracker expansion will boost the unit’s capacity by 50%, making it one of the largest in North America. Late 2021 is the expected completion date.
Naushad Jamani, the company’s senior V.P. of olefins and feedstock, said the new polyethylene plant will use Nova’s patented Sclairtech technology, which was developed over the past 20 years at the St. Clair River Site.
“We’re proud of this technology, and I might say that technology was essentially developed right here in Sarnia,” Jamani said.
“It’s going to be a very busy next four years in this community.”
The Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership called Nova’s decision “transformative.” A roundtable will be held soon for business and community leaders to discuss how they can build on the opportunity, SLEP said.
“It’s going to be good for everybody, whether you’re building houses, whether you’re in the real estate business, whether you’re running a restaurant,” said Bob Bailey, MPP for Sarnia-Lambton.
“This investment of over $2 billion is a real vote of confidence in this area and its people.”
NOVA Chemicals is a subsidiary of the International Petroleum Investment Company of the United Arab Emirates.
A former president of the Sarnia-Lambton Real Estate Board said an influx of skilled trade workers will benefit the local economy and give real estate a healthy boost.
“It means great things for Sarnia,” said Donna Mathewson, manager of StreetCity Realty. “The spinoffs that will come from a plant of that size will be huge for the community.”
The future of Nova Chemicals in Sarnia-Lambton had looked doubtful until 2013 when it began using natural gas liquids piped in from the eastern U.S., known as Marcellus shale gas.
In recent years, the company has invested more than $1 billion in its Ontario facilities.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia-Lambton
“I’m just delighted… this couldn’t be a better gift in the holiday season for every person in the community.”
Bruce Hein, Chair, Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership
“On behalf of our entire board of directors, I want to thank NOVA Chemicals for providing this transformative, next generation economic development opportunity to Sarnia-Lambton.”
Patrick Coutu, Magic Realty
“I imagine I’ll be getting calls tomorrow. There’s an existing need in our market for real simple housing for transient worker … “It’s always nice when everybody has jobs and people can put food on the table.”
Bob Bailey, MPP for Sarnia-Lambton
“I think they’re underselling the thing, I think it’s actually going to be bigger.”
Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth
“This will push Nova’s greenhouse gas emissions to 13% below its 2010 levels, helping Ontario meet our commitments to lower greenhouse gases.”
“This plant was going to be built somewhere in the world… but Nova chose to do it here in Ontario, where our environmental standards are the highest in the world.”
Jim Pumple, Magic Realty
“It boils down to one word: jobs. As you know, Toronto doesn’t need jobs, Sarnia does.”
Naushad Jamani, Nova’s senior V.P. of olefins and feedstock
“We look to invest and grow in the communities that welcome us into their communities, and we see this as a strong partnership.”