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Welcome to the Invest in Middlesex Summer 2015 Newsletter. This quarterly e-newsletter has been designed for local businesses, prospective investors and our economic development partners.
Take a minute to get caught up on all the latest news and learn more about the opportunities available to you in Middlesex County.
Holy Hostas Batman!
Officially it’s known as Hosta Choice Gardens, but to its legions of loyal customers, the specialty nursery located at 4897 Irish Drive in Appin, is better known as Hosta Heaven.
Home to more than 1,800 varieties of hostas, the 50-acre property is a destination for gardeners every summer. Owners Glenn Wilson and Yvon Repanier purchased the business in 2008 and have expanded its operation since. Today, they sell hostas to thousands of customers, not just in Southwestern Ontario but, across Canada and into the U.S.
The partners moved from B.C., where they had nurtured a significant hosta and perennial collection. They moved much of it with them to Ontario – 900 hostas that filled half of a 28-foot moving van.
In their 8th year, they have expanded the hosta selection and streamlined the nursery operation dramatically. They grow most of the plants under shade houses, where gardeners can roam through thousands of plants, all labeled and organized by size.
The tiniest hosta matures at only two inches; it’s known as the Itsy Bitsy Spider. One of the largest is the Empress China that grows four feet high. Every year, Wilson and Repanier scout the hosta world for new varieties that will be popular the following summer.
Most sales occur at the nursery, but any hosta is available for shipping. Plants arrive within one to three days and thrive in their new homes; although Hosta Choice does not ship to destinations north of the 60th parallel.
“We have customers all over the country,” Repanier says. “And of course we have many more customers who come in person to search for just the right plant.”
Hosta names often play a part in people’s choices, Wilson says. “Many times people come looking for a plant with the same name as their child or grandchild. If they can’t find that, they choose one named for certain qualities someone has.”
If someone is looking for a variety not available at the nursery, Wilson and Repanier have been known to search it out and order it. There are about 20,000 hosta varieties in the world, with more being introduced every year.
Hosta Choice has several varieties created in North Carolina by Bob Solberg, a “rock star” in the world of hostas. His newest creation is First Blush, which is the first hosta to feature red in its leaf. It sells for $100; the most expensive specimen at Hosta Choice. Most plants are much cheaper, starting at only $8.
The nursery opens for the season on Mother’s Day every year, and scores of people attend the celebration. It operates until the end of August.
Local manufacturers looking for product testing, feedback and expert advice will have a new place to turn for help next year, thanks to Fanshawe College.
The school recently unveiled plans to build the Canadian Centre for Product Validation; the first industrial product test centre of its kind in the country.
The $16.2-million facility is schedule to open next spring in London’s Advanced Manufacturing Park. The park, located on the border of Thames Centre, already is home to a variety of industrial testing and research centres.
“Adding the Centre of Product Validation sets up a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship unlike any other centre in Canada,” says Ben Cecil, associate vice-president of academic excellence and innovation at Fanshawe. “We will be able to help manufacturers of all kinds with any aspect of their process.”
The new centre will employ 45 researchers who will test all aspects of a manufacturer’s product or process; from early on in the development stages, to further along when a company is looking for efficiencies in a long-standing process.
“We will offer objective third-party analysis of anything to do with manufacturing,” Cecil says. “The thing that makes the centre unique is that we’ll also address ways to fix whatever issues we find. We’ll work with the manufacturers to improve their products and processes.”
Fanshawe is paying half the cost of the project; the other half is coming from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev). It’s the second FedDev investment in the Advanced Manufacturing Park. Last year, it invested $13.7-million in the Fraunhofer and Collider projects.
The new Centre for Product Validation gives Middlesex County manufacturers a world-class resource that is close to home and easily accessed.
Changing the Face of Ilderton’s Core Area
Customers of Ilderton’s landmark King Edward Restaurant and Pub have noticed a few changes this summer. The pub still serves great food and beer, but the restaurant façade is new and improved.
Owners Rich and Deb Hunter are among many Ilderton business owners who have taken advantage of the Middlesex Centre Community Improvement Plan. To date, the municipality has invested $58,420 in upgrades and renovations to various Ilderton businesses. That has been more than matched by the businesses taking part in the program with total spending on upgrades nearing $132,000 since the program began three years ago.
“We have a 135-year-old porch out front of the pub,” says Rich Hunter. “It had a pressure-treated railing that was in pretty bad shape. We were able to replace the entire railing with cedar late last year. And this year, we’re replacing the heritage gingerbread work above the porch.”
“Middlesex Centre matches business contributions to approved projects up to $5,000, but many businesses spend more,” says Mike Barnier, Corporate Support Specialist with Middlesex Centre.
This year, the municipality budgeted $35,000 for the program; an increase from previous years because of demand.
Many of the approved projects will be implemented in the coming weeks and months. Among the types of projects eligible for support are:
- New signs and restoration of existing signs
- Painting, cleaning and restoration of the building exterior, including masonry work
- Repairs to windows, doors and roofs
- Replacement of exterior architectural features
- Upgrades to exterior lighting
- Alterations to awnings and other entrance features
“The program has helped restore the heritage of Ilderton,” Hunter says. “It’s not just our business but many others that have taken advantage of the program.
Sharing Organic Co-op, for example, was also approved this year and will do lighting and stucco work this summer.
The municipality pays its portion of the project when work is complete. “It certainly is popular,” Barnier says. “It’s budget-dependent, but we’d love to offer it every year.”
New Tag Line for County Economic Development
Economic Development in Middlesex County is expanding its scope, starting with the adoption of a new tag line. “Invest in Middlesex County… we appreciate your business” will now serve as the message for the retention and attraction of business in Middlesex County.
According to new Director of Economic Development, Cara Finn, the new tag line serves two purposes; “the first is to thank our existing businesses for the investment they are making in our County, and that we look forward to working with them on an ongoing basis. The second, is to let new investors know that locating in Middlesex County is a solid business decision”. Ultimately, says Finn, “we welcome business here, and the success of those who choose to locate in Middlesex County is evident”.
The new branding comes on the heels of the County’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, recent release of its Agriculture Strategy and decision to act as the Destination Marketing Organization for Tourism in Middlesex. According to Finn, “the expansion of these roles requires that we expand the focus of economic development at the County level to include all business; and better capitalize on our four key sectors of Small business, Tourism, Manufacturing and Agriculture”.
Tourism related businesses….become part of the Grassroutes!
The Grassroutes marker signs are now installed on County roads and tourism businesses across Middlesex County are quickly becoming part of the movement.
The Middlesex Tourism Signage Strategy includes new Community Signage, Grassroutes markers and the opportunity for tourism related businesses to effectively bring attention to their attractions through consistent visible marketing. To learn more about how your business can benefit from this program….click here!
Middlesex County Releases Ag Reports
Middlesex County’s recently released 2015 Agri-Food Economic Impact Report and 2015-2020 Agricultural Sector Strategy and Recommendation Report is now available online.