Occupancy Rate Continues to Remain Steady

Occupancy Rate Continues to Remain Steady

Sarnia Observer (March 10, 2016) -- Plans are afoot to more than double the size of the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park within the next few years.

After a years long struggle to boost tenancy, the 80 acre Sarnia Research Park is now boasting a 95 per cent occupancy rate, prompting discussions around a possible 400,000 square foot expansion.

“I envision within the next three to five years, we'll need additional buildings there,” Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said of the Park. “We are at capacity.”

Members of the Research Park's Board reviewed concept plans for the potential expansion at a Wednesday meeting.

Close to 30 different research operations, economic development agencies and businesses currently call the Modeland Road park home, including the Bioindustrial Innovation Centre, Nova Chemicals, WorleyParsons and the Atelka call centre.

More tenants could be in the Research Park's future following a recent visit from international investment officials working in foreign offices in Asia,the United States, Europe, South America and Africa.

“They were pretty excited,” said Tom Strifler, Executive Director of the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park. “They already mentioned a couple of potential leads. They were impressed with the facilities.”

Efforts are also underway for the park to receive its certified site designation. The provincial designation would indicate the Research Park is “shovel ready” for investment opportunities and prompt the province to market the site internationally.

While the Research Park has no immediate plans for an expansion, Strifler said Park officials would like to see a Board approved blueprint for expansion in place in case demand requires them to do so.

And if the demand is there, Bradley said there is space to pull off the expansion.

The City owns close to 300 acres of property surrounding the County owned Research Park.

“It was a wise decision... to have enough land for a long term growth situation, and I can even envision a day down the road – where the land is to the east right along Modeland Road – that maybe Lambton College may be interested in it because they're land locked,” said Bradley, who serves as Chair of the Research Park Board.

Potential expansion plans come as the Park continues to undergo a resurgence following an all time low occupancy rate of 40 per cent several years ago.

Bradley credits the turnaround to working with realtors to bring in new tenants and the hiring of a manager to solely oversee the Sarnia Park.

Until that point, Western University had one manager overseeing all three of its Research Parks. “We both arrived at the conclusion that it was in our best interest to have a fulltime manager, and Tom (Strifler) came in with great private sector experience,” Bradley said. “That's the difference. He's on the ground there.”

Last year, the Sarnia-Lambton Research Park brought in $3.3 million in revenue, but it's still carrying $20 million worth of debt.

Strifler has managed to lower both security and electricity costs to help the Park's books, Bradley noted.

“With the way we rejigged things a year or two ago, we're meeting our cash flow and debt obligations, but we want to do more in the future,” he said. “That's why we're cutting costs.” As much as it's important for the Research Park to be on solid footing, Strifler said it's really the work happening inside the Park that's important.

“We're now essentially full, which is a good thing, but I think the more important thing is there's a lot of good research and entrepreneurial activity, which is what we're all about, so I think that's the real positive outcome of this,” he said.

“We need to be financially stable, but our mandate is to attract and promote new businesses and new technologies, so I think that's the piece we're focusing on now.”

- Barbara Simpson, Sarnia Observer

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