Research Park Receives Touts Success

Sarnia Observer (November 3, 2016) -- An incubator for emerging tech companies and research centre for industrial heavyweights has a promising future, Lambton County council heard this week.

Tom Strifler, Executive Director of the Western-Sarnia-Lambton Research Park, spoke in council chambers recently for the organization’s annual general meeting.

Financially, the Park is working down a debt of $20 million, and is poised to pay a $1.2-million chunk by year’s end, he said.

"It's not a small debt. But certainly we're heading in the right direction."

Revenue in 2016 is $4 million, with the bulk coming from renting facilities to agencies like Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, Nova Chemicals, WorleyParsons and the Atelka call centre. Occupancy is at 95 per cent, up from an all-time low of 40 per cent just a few years ago.

Plans are to become debt-free by 2035.

Recently the Park, and another two under London’s Western University, together won the Outstanding Research Park Award – out of a field of more than 700 parks – from the Association of University Research Parks.

"It's great to make progress, but it's also very significant to get recognition," Strifler said, calling it, "Quite an achievement."

Western is the first Ontario recipient and just the third in Canada.

The award was accepted in late September in Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, the University Business Incubator index has the Park trio at fifth in North America, out of about 1,000 Strifler said.

Strifler talked about the mandate of the Park – to attract innovators and help them turn ideas into business.

BioAmber, which opened a $141-million bio-succinic acid plant in Sarnia last year, is one example of a Research Park “graduate,” he said.

More projects in the development stage could add up to $5 billion in investment into the community in the next several years, he said.

"This list continues to grow and that's really the measure of our success as a research park," he said.

Meanwhile, dropping energy costs, negotiating contracts and other steps have trimmed operational costs $800,000 a year, or 25 per cent, he reported.

The 80-acre Park – which started in 2003 when the county, City of Sarnia and Western University partnered up – has also looked into the possibility of expanding, if and when there’s demand.

The city owns close to 300 acres around the Park which could be used, said Mike Bradley, Sarnia Mayor and Research Park Board Chair, earlier this year.

More buildings will likely be needed in three to five years, he said at the time.

There are no immediate plans to expand, Strifler said this week.

A series of resolutions were passed by County Council, including removing restrictions against academic or community directors serving as officers of the Park corporation – known legally as The County of Lambton Community Development Corporation.

The date for its annual general meeting was also changed to February, and the number of community directors was increased to three from two.

- Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer