in Chatsworth, Grey Highlands, Southgate, West Grey
February 13, 2024
West Grey, Ontario has been recently featured in Business View Magazine. Business View Magazine is a global leader in multi‐platform Business to Business profiles, news and opinion with over 877,000 executive subscribers across North America. The feature story is based on an interview with Mayor Kevin Eccles and Editor in Chief, Karen Sucra. The story was published as follows:
Meeting commercial and community growth while keeping its unique charm at its heart
The Municipality of West Grey is a welcoming and friendly community, situated in the southern part of Grey County, and comprises the former townships of Normanby, Bentinck, and Glenelg, alongside the vibrant town of Durham and the quaint villages of Neustadt and Elmwood. More than just a place to live, the municipality is a destination that offers an abundance of recreational, cultural, and business opportunities. With tall pines, meandering rivers, and pristine lakes as its backdrop, West Grey has endless opportunities to embrace the spirit of exploration and discover the natural wonders it holds.
Mayor Kevin Eccles is also quick to add that the municipality has more to offer beyond its scenic beauty. He highlights, “Yes, we’re nestled in nature and the natural beauty of West Grey is undisputed. We’ve got everything from small inland lakes, to rivers, to forests, to beautiful parks and charming villages. But from a business perspective, what is also here is the infrastructure to support business. A business that is doing any export into the United States, probably has a better chance of getting product to Port Huron, or even into Windsor, quicker from a manufacturing base here, than you could from in and around the GTA, solely based on reduced traffic and congestion, and ease of access to market.”
West Grey, Ontario - Grey County, OntarioResidential Growth and a Vibrant Quality of Life
With the rise of remote work, the municipality has seen internet providers embrace the shift, increasing reliable infrastructure with a goal of expanding their coverage in the municipality to 90 per cent. This adaptability has led to a significant increase in professionals working remotely, contributing to the community’s growth. Mayor Eccles sees this trend continuing and emphasizes West Grey’s readiness for the evolving work landscape. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t have heard of individuals working from home. Now, in and around West Grey, many long-time residents and newcomers are working one, two, three or more days from home. I can see it becoming the norm, and we’re ready and prepared for that,” he says.
A surge in population growth is also occurring in the municipality, as people experience the high quality of life opportunities in the region. “Like many communities, we are experiencing labour shortages in some sectors, but we have a tremendous number of qualified professionals and tradespeople here,” notes the mayor. “What we are seeing is that once a business relocates here and their workforce follows, it isn’t very long before those employees realize a quality of life unmatched to what they were experiencing for decades in the urban centres.”
Relocating from urban areas has led to an increased need for a variety of housing options, and West Grey is ready to meet the demand. There are at least four subdivisions working through the process and expected to bring 1000 new homes within the next six years. Karl Schipprack, Director of Infrastructure and Development and West Grey’s Chief Building Official, notes that there has been a shift in housing trends, moving away from predominantly single-family dwellings, to a focus on multi-residential options.
“We are starting to see a lot more semi-detached and row/townhomes, for both the affordability factor and to ensure variety of housing options,” Schipprack said. “We’re trying to get houses that young families and first-time buyers can afford, as well as have inventory for some of the older population looking to downsize. Those are the houses that are in higher demand right now.”
A Diverse Employment Landscape
On the subject of key employers, Schipprack says “one of the largest employers in the municipality is the construction sector. The various contractors and trades, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, those smaller companies, when you combine them all together, would definitely be among our top employers.”
Domm Construction, for example, with 80 employees, is a prominent employer in the region, as Mayor Eccles notes. “We’ve probably got one of the largest wood frame builders in southwestern Ontario, in Domm Construction. They’ve constructed several arenas and halls, medical centres, commercial buildings, and homes. I know of at least 14 area fire halls built by Domm. That is a little niche that they have really picked up on,” Eccles noted. The mayor adds that there are several other local builders and many, like custom-home builder Candue Homes, are celebrating decades of success in the area. “I am continually impressed with the quality and diversity of construction projects in West Grey and do not hesitate to attribute West Grey’s vibrancy to the dedication of these corporations.”
On the industrial and manufacturing side, notable factories such as Gemini Signs, specializing in custom signage and various products, operate their Canadian headquarters in Neustadt. The former town of Durham is home to Durham Furniture, renowned since 1889 for crafting high quality hardwood furniture. Molok, a Finnish company that manufactures semi-underground waste containers world-wide has its North American headquarters in West Grey. The Viking-Cives snow removal equipment plant is also located in the community, employing 150 people. As well, Sinoboom has an assembly plant in the municipality, where they build lift equipment which is shipped across Canada. From construction to manufacturing, to high-tech, West Grey’s business community is diverse and expanding. Telestat, one of world’s largest and most successful global satellite operators, has their Canadian operations located in West Grey, where millions of dollars have been invested in its satellite network.
Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in West Grey, and when it comes to the small business community, Eccles says, “a lot of times, the best thing we can do is get out of the way, remove the bureaucracy, and stay in touch with our community to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit.” He shares that the municipality is home to a vast variety of small businesses from small auto repair garages, to well drilling, retail and personal services, agriculture and value-added agriculture, and much more in between. “We see a lot of diversity, because out of the 13,000 people living in West Grey, 2,600 live in Durham, 700 or 800 live in Neustadt, but the majority are our rural residents,” he acknowledges. “What the municipality supplies is the infrastructure, like a reliable road and bridge network, to get their product to market.” Eccles adds that collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce is another source of small business support, along with the local BIA.
West Grey, Ontario - Grey County, OntarioInfrastructure Upgrades and a Downtown Vision
As West Grey anticipates growth, infrastructure projects take center stage. Schipprack outlined plans for a new police station, a new long-term care home, and a county ambulance station, which is currently in the proposal stages. “This is all good news for the municipality,” he maintains. “These projects have been a long time coming, but they are all definitely needed.” The municipality is also working on an expansion of water and sewer systems with a focus on stormwater management. Schipprack continues, “There are also a number of smaller infrastructure projects that are equally important. For example, we are working with the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority to complete the mapping of the Durham Creek so we can move forward in that area.” The smaller projects may not necessarily be as fancy, and they may not even be noticed in the long run, but they are an important part of managing environmental matters and working with our natural surroundings, Schipprack added.
For Mayor Eccles, a reimagined downtown center in the town of Durham is also top of mind, along with preserving the spirit of the Neustadt community. “The little village of Neustadt, which has the oldest operating craft brewery in Ontario, was also designated as the prettiest village in Canada a number of years ago. It has that little shop type business environment. Putting policies in place to maintain that in Neustadt, I think, is paramount,” asserts the mayor. In the town of Durham, he has a different vision, suggesting that the downtown main street of days gone by is no longer relevant, and it is time for the municipality to move forward with a walkable, restaurant and service-based core. “My vision is that the main street won’t be as much a place for traffic to move through, but it will be a people spot, a place that is moving people to find those entertainment experiences, those little craft and boutique type stores, on our main street. I see us trying to move more to a place where people gather, not where vehicles fly through.”
Plans for the Future
Looking ahead, Mayor Eccles says that residential expansion is a top priority for West Grey, underscoring the importance of attracting people to the area to drive both economic development and local businesses. “You’ve got to attract businesses, and I don’t care whether it’s an automotive plant, or whether it’s Aunt Bessie’s flower shop. You need people, one to work in them – and two – to be the traffic through the door at the flower shop, or at the bakery, or whatever,” he said. The mayor also discussed walkable communities, expressing the municipality’s commitment to creating livable spaces in urban centers.
For Schipprack, actively addressing the growing demand for housing by streamlining processes and cutting through red tape is an area of focus. He shares that the municipality is poised to implement a new official plan and zoning bylaw, with a focus on easing restrictions and promoting greater flexibility in property use. The goal is to encourage additional residential units, increased density in the downtown core, and a more efficient approval process for developers and builders.
As West Grey continues to grow and innovate, it reinforces its status as a welcoming and dynamic municipality, ensuring a bright and prosperous future for all who call it home.
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