Premier Visits Area

By John Swartz

Ontario premier, Doug Ford, visited Simcoe County today, with 4 planned stops. First was this morning in Oro-Medonte to participate in the ground breaking for Oro Station, a new automotive technology center being developed by Geoff Campbell – who is also the developer of Matchedash Lofts.

“We’re building over 500,000 sq. ft. of commercial property. We have the airport over there, which we are putting money into as well. As the mayor said this is empty land for decades. Now you get the government out of the way, your supporting where there needs support, this is an investment that’s going to create 1800 jobs on the construction site and then 700 full-time jobs,” said Ford to SUNonline/Orillia.

The $150 million Oro Station, also known as Automotive Innovation Park, is a 200 acre development on Oro-Medonte Line 7 directly across from the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport. It will include a 4.2 kilometer track which should be completed mid 2022 and will be used by engineering, education, supply, design and manufacturing businesses sectors for testing, design, development, marketing, events.  It will also be the home to the Bexley Motor Club, so sports and tourism are in the mix. The full build out is expected to be done in 2025.

Oro Station managing partner Geoff Campbell
Oro Station managing partner Geoff Campbell

“It’s more a sports facility. It’s not that we’re having spectator based races, (we’ll) never have 20,000 fans coming down here to see a race in action, but things like motorsport testing and development for race teams, new technologies in electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, these are things we can use the circuit for. So there will be things like racing, but no spectator based with large crowds,’’ Campbell, the Oro Station managing partner said. What’s a race with no spectators? How does an event to show off new technology work if the intended audience is too large?

‘We are however set up with broadcast capabilities, whether its commercials, product development, demonstration, we have the ability to broadcast off this property.” Campbell said.

Oro-Medonte mayor Harry Hughes was very happy to see the sod turned. He’s been trying for more than a decade to get development happening near the airport. The problem was the definition of permitted industrial/ commercial development was narrowly defined to benefit the airport, and several prospective projects couldn’t get beyond the requirement.

Oro-Medonte mayor Harry Hughes
Oro-Medonte mayor Harry Hughes

“This industrial park has been here for 14 years and that was one of the things when I first became mayor I worked very hard with the government to establish and it wasn’t easy. But, they had restrictions on it that really created barriers for moving forward because of some of the conditions on what could be here. It wasn’t until minister Clark came in and it’s taken off to such a degree this entire 200 acres is taken and there will be more,” Hughes told SUNonline/Orillia. Steve Clark, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing used a ministers zoning order to change the definition.

“It always works better like the one here in Oro-Medonte that saw an opportunity, saw that a ministers zoning order would speed up a process to create just a very exciting project that creates a tremendous amount of jobs in the riding,” Clark told SUNonline/Orillia.

“It’s not just about how many jobs it is, it’s the quality of jobs. They’ll all be high tech,” said Hughes. “When you see what is planned, if even half of that unfolds, you’re going to see this whole area with the employment and industrial at a level that we really don’t have.”

Doug Downey Steve Clark.
Attorney general Doug Downey and municipal affairs minister Steve Clark.

Attorney general, Doug Downey represents the riding. The former Orillia councillor and prominent lawyer knows the benefit to the Simcoe North riding as well as to the Barrie/Springwater/Oro-Medonte riding he represents.

“The critical thing is Oro-Medonte is so pivotal to the entire Simcoe region and this opportunity is world class, what they’re building here is going to bring people that would not have seen this part of the world otherwise,” Downey told SUNonline/Orillia.

Neighbouring riding MPPs were on hand including Simcoe North’s Jill Dunlop.

Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop
Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop

“This is fantastic news. For the area of Simcoe County it’s amazing to see the job opportunities you’re going to see here. Good high paying jobs,” Dunlop said. “This is definitely going to put Oro-Medonte on the map for automotive innovation across the world,”

During the press conference several speakers mentioned a partnership with Georgian College. Campbell said there will be an immediate chance for students to apply what they learned, and to learn some more.

“With our partnership with Georgian College it provides an opportunity for students to be immersed  in the industry with co-op positions in many different fields right here, integrating with commercial industry before they get out of school,” Campbell told the press corps. Beyond co-op placements, college leadership is still in the planning stage.

Georgian College's MaryLynn West-Moynes
Georgian College’s MaryLynn West-Moynes

“At some point in time, I would see if this park advances the way the developers want it to, there’s a potential opportunity for us to have some kind of facility here,” said college president and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes to SUNonline/Orillia. She said business, automotive and technical research students are the obvious vocational fields where benefit will happen.

Georgian is the home of the Automotive Business School of Canada and electrical engineering and driverless vehicles are areas of specialty students learn about, and do research in.

“I think it’s so important to give the opportunity for our young people to come and show their skills and innovation and ingenuity right here in Oro-Medonte. I think it’s fabulous,” West-Moynes said.

Several speakers referred to the government’s agenda of reducing red tape and being business friendly. The premier told the audience he’s happy to help.

“I just love innovators like Geoff Campbell, true entrepreneurs and you are thinking outside the box Geoff and put this plan together. I remember you came down to Queen’s Park and discussed it, and see how quickly we’ve all moved forward and we’re going to make this happen,” Ford said. Clark added emphasis.

“If we don’t act as a partner for these potential developments then the jobs that come with them will go to another jurisdiction,” said Clark.

It is well-known the premier has a cottage in Muskoka, and SUNonline/Orillia asked if he would be back when the project is operational.

“Oh I love it. I’m going to get on the track myself,” Ford said.

Oro Station – artist concept
OPP Gets Money

The premier’s next stop was in Orillia at 1 p.m. He visited the OPP general headquarters to announce $25 million of new funding in order to hire 200 officers. The officers will be posted in various detachments and solicitor general, Sylvia Jones said Northern Ontario has been understaffed for some time and it’s likely a good portion of new hires will be posted there.

The whole press conference can be watched here.

Ford also visited Molded Precision Components in Shanty Bay and Jomi Engineering Services in Barrie this afternoon.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia: Images Supplied).


Support Independent Journalism