Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

Written by Kieran Delamont, Associate Editor, London Inc.

CME report highlights area manufacturing growth, stresses labour pool development

According to a report released this week by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), the London region recorded Ontario’s third highest job growth in the manufacturing sector. “The KitchenerWaterloo – Barrie region emerges as the strongest pole of [manufacturing] employment, with manufacturing constituting 19.1 per cent of total employment, almost twice the national average. Not far behind, the Windsor-Sarnia and London regions follow with 18.2 per cent and 16.5 per cent,” the report stated. The London region had a total of 55,100 people working in the manufacturing sector in 2023, up from 52,800 in 2022, 52,400 in 2021 and 46,800 during the pandemic in 2020.


The upshot: As the report points out, the positive manufacturing growth for the area comes ahead of the $7-billion Volkswagen-backed PowerCo SE battery assembly facility opening in St. Thomas (scheduled for 2027), where up to 3,000 people are expected to be employed, plus the expectation of adding a number of additional supply and spin-off businesses to the region. All of which has the CME warning of the critical need for labour pool development (more than 70 per cent of businesses in the CME study report labour shortages), particularly for the developing EV sector. “This [EV] transition calls for significant updating of existing curricula for schools, colleges and universities and developing new, relevant programs,” the report stated. “For example, in Southwestern Ontario, Fanshawe College has begun working with the Government of Ontario and industry partners as it launches a new two-year Green Vehicle Technology Program.”

Read more: CME

A set of tall, curvy twins

You’ve probably seen the famed Marilyn Monroe Towers in Mississauga ― now, York Developments wants to build its own take on the voluptuous Ma Yansong-designed condos (albeit somewhat smaller and less curvaceous) at the corner of Oxford Street and Wonderland Road. A new proposal for two 33-storey towers ― one tower snuggling up to each side of the Nash Jewellers store ― is heading for city hall, with a public meeting scheduled later this month. The proposal includes a total of 408 units, 426 structured parking spaces and 413 surface parking spaces, plus an additional 473 square metres of ground-floor commercial space. The existing London Mall retail building would remain. The design renderings ― two wavy, curvy towers ― has been praised by city politicians. “I like the design of it,” said Councillor Steve Lehman. “It is curvy. It is a better design than a concrete block.”


The upshot: As with other recent proposals in the area, including a 3,800-unit Esam Group subdivision to the east and another 25-storey tower from York Developments to the north, traffic and congestion is going to be the contentious issue here. York wants 33 storeys for each tower ― something that would require city zoning changes, but which might be allowed because Oxford Street is technically considered a rapid transit corridor. But, as we’ve covered in previous stories over the past couple of months, there is no rapid transit along that corridor, and several councillors have concerns about traffic flow ― concerns that are growing more cumulative with each new development proposed for the high-growth area. “We are talking now about a lot of people moving there,” Lehman said. “I do not see any solutions to alleviate the traffic.” The city is, obviously, keen to approve as many housing units as it can. Probably the biggest outstanding question, then, is whether all this development interest in the area will result in a revival of the previously scrapped plan to build out the western leg of the BRT network. 

Read more: London Free Press | London.ca

Local mortgage broker faces fine and suspension

A local mortgage brokerage is in hot water with Ontario regulators, and potentially faces up to $110,000 in fines, after a two-year investigation by the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario. The regulator alleges that Forest City Funding Inc.’s (operating as FC Funding) principal broker and sole director William Handsaeme gave “false or deceptive information and documents when dealing in mortgages,” and that it was knowingly “being used by a borrower to facilitate dishonesty.” The allegations stem from five transactions in which borrowers had second mortgages through a company, Solidity Group, where Handsaeme was a co-director. “In all five of the transactions, Forest City Funding knowingly assisted the borrower in obtaining a second mortgage that contravened the terms and conditions of the first mortgage,” said the regulator. In addition to the fines, Handsaeme faces a one-year suspension of his mortgage license.


The upshot: The exact specifics of the alleged violations are complicated, but most of the flagged transactions more or less seem to boil down to using second mortgages, acquired through Handsaeme’s Solidity Group, to pay for supposed family gifts meant to fund down payments. “Handsaeme admitted…that the purpose of the second mortgages issued by Solidity Group was to repay family members who provided the short-term funds for a down payment for the first mortgage,” the regulator said. It is one small example of a rise in mortgage fraud, likely prompted by a hot housing market, that has mortgage experts worried. Earlier this year Equifax said it uncovered $400 million in mortgage fraud last year, which they say represented “only a fraction” of the total amount. 

Read more: Canadian Mortgage Professional | London Free Press

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Incubator kitchen battling city red tape

A local community kitchen, used by small food businesses, says its operations are being threatened by red tape from city hall. Friendly Fare operates as a non-profit communal kitchen in Old East Village, where for the last 11 years the space has been used for production by small-batch food businesses, most of them sole proprietors, who rent by the day or half-day. Now, though, its owner Jay Caldwell says the city is insisting that each vendor would need an individual business license, individual health, fire and business inspections and a $233 fee, pursuant to new licensing rules that kicked in three years ago. “Currently, as the sole license holder for the premises, liability for all proper food production and sanitation falls to Friendly Fare,” Caldwell wrote in a letter to the city and the health unit. “Your requirement to make all our renters get a business license and triple inspection poses logistical challenges that are untenable… forcing Friendly Fare to make all renters apply for a City of London business license to use our facilities limits community access to a much-needed service, forcing home cooks and bakers looking to start a venture back into their homes.”


The upshot: For food businesses in the very beginning stages of scaling up (or which are perfectly happy operating as small side hustles), this kind of space is a lifeline. “The cost of renting a commercial space would definitely be out of reach,” said Harcroft Estate Artisan Preserves owner Dave Dukes, who uses the space. Another, Chika Nwabinwe, who produces Nigerian snacks that are retailed in local African stores, is using the space as an affordable stepping stone. “It’s helpful because we can put ourselves together before we move to the next stage,” she told CBC News London. “I want to have my own storefront one day, but in the meantime, I have to do with what I have.” Whether the city is willing to compromise on the rules will remain to be seen. Caldwell said the city has brought this up twice in the past 11 years, and has resolved it each time, and hopes that the city will ultimately side with the folks who use the space. “This requirement ensures that many Londoners will lack prospects to engage in entrepreneurship, eliminates opportunities for safe food production and increases costs to the consumer,” he wrote. “This requirement makes for a worse London.” 

Read more: Friendly Fare | CBC News London

London Police Service slash upper management positions

The three top civilian employees at the London Police Service (LPS) have been shown the door as part of a broader restructuring of the police service’s administration. Patty Malone, the director of legal services, Lindsay Ferrier, director of human resources and Rob Lovecky, finance and fleet director, were let go recently. Ali Chahbar, chair of the police board, said that the moves were part of the board’s goals of finding efficiencies. “We’re going to look for redundancies, we’re going to look for areas where we can be more effective in delivering service,” Chahbar said. The move will save the LPS around $550,000 a year in salary. 


The upshot: The cops got a big budget increase this year ― 28 per cent more this year than 2023 ― and a mandate to improve and repair the relationship between the city and its police force. The departures of Malone, Ferrier and Lovecky look to be part of a broader attempt to improve front-line service with that extra money (and hedge, perhaps, against criticisms of excessive spending). Recently, the senior leadership team was expanded with a third deputy chief, Treena MacSween, a former Hamilton cop. “We’re also looking at structures within the organization to find out what’s working, what’s not working,” Chahbar said. “You have to examine structures, you have to examine areas for efficiencies, and that’s part of the review process.” There are expected to be more changes announced in the months ahead. 

Read more: CTV News London | London Free Press

Airshow London named best North American airshow for third straight year

Airshow London has again been named the best air show in North America, according to the 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards Contest run by American media company USA Today. It’s the third straight year that Airshow London has nabbed the top spot. “We are extremely proud to have been voted as the best air show in North American for three years running,” said Airshow London’s executive director Holly Doty. “Being the only Canadian show nominated was already an awesome compliment but to win, wow, we are so thankful.” Airshow London’s director of air operation Gerry Vanderhoek said that “this type of recognition really puts London, Ontario on the map as a world-class aviation event, and something Londoners should be very proud of.” The awards are determined by reader votes based on nominees put forward by a panel of experts.


The upshot: Airshow London was already regarded as a great airshow pre-Covid, but it seems to really have struck gold with its pandemic-inspired SkyDrive format, a drive-in set up that allows audiences to watch the show from in or around their vehicles. That format is back again this year, and the award should help them sell out tickets once again. This year’s Airshow London is set to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force and will also feature the British Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows acrobatic team for the first time. “We are so grateful for the continued support and participation from the Royal Canadian Air Force, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corp, and other organizations which attract a lot of attention from fans, locally and from afar,” says Vanderhoek. This year’s show runs from September 13 to 15.

Read more: Skies Magazine | CTV News London

Dispatch: May 10, 2024

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

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