Sarnia-Lambton’s hunt for bio-industry jobs received a $12-million boost Monday from the federal government.
Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science and economic development, announced the funding Monday for Sarnia-based Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) during an event at the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
In June, Ontario announced $3 million in new funding for the initiative, created in 2008 to help Sarnia-Lambton diversify its fossil fuel-based industrial base by attracting companies making fuel and chemicals from plants and other organic raw materials.
BIC was formed with $15 million in federal funding, and the new funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park is expected to help keep it running for the next four or five years, said Murray McLaughlin, the agency’s outgoing executive director.
“We are now embarking on the second round of the BIC strategic plan,” said incoming executive director Sandy Marshall.
“This $12 million is critical funding” that helped attract additional financial support from the province, and other partners, he said.
It will help create a $27-million Centre for the Commercialization of Sustainable Chemistry Innovations at the research park, which is expected to be “Ontario’s anchor and hub for commercialization and collaboration of new clean technologies and technology companies,” Marshall said.
Mike Hartmann, executive vice-president of BioAmber, spoke during Monday’s announcement and said BIC’s early $500,000 investment in the company led to the $150-million bio-succinic acid plant BioAmber built recently in Sarnia.
BIC was “unbelievably instrumental” in that project, Hartmann said.
“I think today’s announcement clearly demonstrates our commitment to clean technology,” Bains said.
The federal money, coming from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, will help support efforts at the research park to help businesses move new products through final testing and into the marketplace.
“Our investment in BIC reflects that we want to take good ideas and we want to help them commercialize,” Bains said.
“It’s really creating an environment for businesses to grow, and scale-up and succeed.”
The global market for sustainable chemistry was $11 billion in 2015, and is expected to grow to $100 billion by 2020, Bains said.
“The potential is enormous,” and “this region has seized those opportunities,” he added.
Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu said she expects Monday’s announcement will lead to “more bio-clean-tech type industry here, good well-paying jobs.”
Lambton County Warden Bev MacDougall, who is also a member of Sarnia City Council, said Monday’s announcement is “a tremendous vote of confidence” for the community.
“It will be a necessary investment for all the partners working to reshape our local economy.”
MacDougall said that while industry is a Sarnia-Lambton’s “biggest economic driver,” agriculture is second.
“I have felt, for the last 10 years, the marriage of both is going to be the magic future for Lambton.”
One of BIC’s latest projects led to an announcement by London-based Comet Biorefining that it plans to open a Sarnia plant in 2018 to make dextrose sugar from corn stalks and leaves, and wheat straw, sourced from farms in the region.