Bay of Quinte Region – Where Innovation, Manufacturing, Skilled Trades, and Agriculture thrive
By Jennifer Shea
Photography by Daniel Vaughan
What do the taillights of a Dodge Charger, bushings for the international space station, Mini-Wheats breakfast cereal, and dinosaur museum displays have in common? They are all made in the Bay of Quinte region (by Autosystems Manufacturing, Kennametal Stellite, and Kellogg Canada, all in Belleville, and Quinte West’s Research Casting International respectively).
The diversity of the manufacturing industry located along the shores of the Bay of Quinte in the municipalities of Belleville, Quinte West and Brighton is quite surprising – from food processing to logistics and distribution, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, machining and fabrication, and information and communications technology. From two-person operations to companies employing more than 1,000 people. The region’s vibrant industrial sector continues to grow and diversify.
“In the manufacturing sector, we have about 11,000 direct jobs in the region and probably 120 manufacturers,” said Chris King, CEO of the Quinte Economic Development Commission (QEDC). “Every dollar of output of manufacturing has a multiplier effect of $3.25 which goes across other sectors – including housing, retail, trucking, warehousing.”
QEDC is tasked with attracting and supporting businesses from several value-adding, wealth-creating sectors for the region – businesses where a product or service is made/developed locally and sold outside the area. There are currently 50 companies who have expressed an interest in the Bay of Quinte region, making initial contact with the QEDC. Another 17 have submitted information about what they are seeking. Six have visited the area, actively looking at industrial opportunities. One is in the final proposal stages.
The region’s popularity among such businesses has a lot to do with its location. QEDC’s focus area is centrally located between Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa and provides access to those major Canadian markets. The U.S. border crossing at the Thousand Islands is just over an hour away, which opens the entire eastern seaboard.
Serviced industrial land is a big attraction, especially at a fraction of the price for locations like the Greater Toronto Area. “Thirty-five or $40,000 per acre of serviced land is very attractive, especially if you look at the Toronto area, where you could be paying $800,000 or $1 million dollars per acre,” noted Chris. “Coupled with that, you have the development charges. In some areas in the GTA, you can be paying an additional $20-some a square foot for development charges. For industry coming here, there are no development charges. Saving some of those up-front costs is another attractive feature for businesses coming here.”
Belleville, Quinte West, and Brighton have established serviced industrial land to attract new companies. The communities are also well-equipped in terms of infrastructure. “That’s another huge asset,” said Chris. “Whether it’s the water and sewer capacity; the fact we have Highway 401 and both CN and CP rail running through the heart of our communities; even the port of Montreal four hours away is a great asset for a lot of our companies.”
Another attractive element for industry coming to the Bay of Quinte region is the quality of the workforce here. “It’s probably one of the top factors in terms of why companies locate, stay, and reinvest here,” said Chris.” In terms of availability, skill level, and training programs, we’re always trying stay ahead of the curve in terms of where we are with our workforce.” This includes investment by the QEDC in skills development programs. “We’re doing a program right now called Elevate Plus, where we take people with some kind of barrier to employment and we put them through an intensive four-week training program – both technical and soft skills, including employer expectations – with two weeks on-the-job training. One hundred per cent of those people who graduate get a full-time job offer.”
From a historical perspective, the Bay of Quinte region has had a thriving industrial sector for more than 200 years. The Heritage Atlas of Hastings County (Orland French, Editor) describes the importance of water power to industries in the mid-1800s. Where the Moira River ran fastest, mills were built to generate power for local industry. At the time, an axe factory, grist mill, foundry, chair factory, tannery, woolen factory, and saw mill were among the industries thriving along the river in Belleville. Another well-known locally made product was spirits, with Corby Distilleries establishing in 1859 in the city.
In Trenton, woodworking, bridge, and engine works were important industrial ventures in the 1800s. Later, worsted suiting, buttons, munitions, jewellery and silverware, wood preservative, paper, yarns, textiles, and shoes were among the products manufactured in the community. A government-backed film studio was established in 1919, with several silent films produced there, some featuring scenes shot on location in Trenton.
Today, the manufacturing sector is increasingly sophisticated. Area businesses are incorporating robotics and other high-technology systems and this trend is expected to continue. “You’re going to see more integration of technology and manufacturing,” said Chris. “You’ll see more use of robotics and advanced sensors; really measuring and pulling together all of the systems of a manufacturing process. I think you’ll start to see more technology, more innovation within the manufacturing process, which doesn’t necessarily mean fewer jobs, it just means a higher skill level required to run those state-of-the-art pieces of equipment and technology.”
Loyalist College plays an important role in supporting area industry by establishing manufacturing-related training programs and tweaking these programs where required to meet the changing needs of the local industrial companies. Mike Hewitt, QEDC’s Manufacturing Resource Centre Coordinator noted, “Loyalist had three times the amount of applicants they anticipated for a January intake for their manufacturing technician program, so they were trying to find classroom space and instructor time and resources to meet that demand. The message is getting out there slowly that you should be looking at manufacturing for career opportunities.”
Chris predicts the manufacturing sector of the future will continue to see more global competition, which also presents more global opportunities for local industrial players. Mike noted one local business has really embraced this. “The manufacturer used to make what was basically a commodity product for medical equipment. They realized they couldn’t compete with China on the commodity part, so they developed new, cutting-edge technology. They’re now the ones the medical equipment suppliers come to and say, ‘What are you working on? We need something like this.’ They totally did a 180 on where their company is and their employment levels have gone up. They’re probably up 50 per cent in employment over where they were.”
The QEDC plays an important role in not only attracting industry to the Bay of Quinte region, but supporting them to stay and prosper here. The Quinte Manufacturers Association, which QEDC administers, allows the 120 member companies to meet on a regular basis to share issues, strategies, and success stories. QEDC has an extensive network of community partners to tap into for industrial support as required. Within the Business Development Centre on Wallbridge-Loyalist Road where QEDC resides, there are financial resources available to industry. “We have Trenval with their business loans and their counselling work,” said Chris. “Also, there is the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) here. We have a representative full-time for financing of larger projects. Loyalist College and their corporate training arm is down the hall.”
Added Mike, “RBC has an office here now. Sometimes people come in and BDC can finance a portion, Trenval can bring a certain portion, and then the banks can contribute, too. We have three different entities in the room who aren’t competing with each other and can provide a very comprehensive support package. You don’t get that in every community.”
“We also try to keep track of company expansions,” said Mike. “We try to have that relationship with them where they’ll let us know what they’re planning, so we can see if there’s any government assistance to help them, whether it’s training people or capital. We also look at what we can do to help companies stay here and what can we do to help them expand. It’s not just bringing people in here, but once they get here, engaging with companies to see how we can help them grow.”
This is the first of a four-part series on Made in the Bay of Quinte – a look at industry – the economic backbone of our region for almost 250 years.