Mayor Chris White says a glass manufacturing plant coming to Guelph-Eramosa will be a “game-changer” for the township and region.
Chinese company Xinyi Canada Glass Limited is planning to build a 70-acre, $450-million glass manufacturing complex on industrial land north of the intersection of Wellington Roads 124 and 32 on the west side of Guelph-Eramosa.
The float glass production facility will be the only one of its kind in North America, said Wellington County director of economic development Jana Burns.
The plant will create about 400 jobs, the majority of which will be technical in nature, she added.
In November, the government of Ontario announced Xinyi Glass Holdings has committed to locating its first North American manufacturing facility in Ontario.
Premier Kathleen Wynne noted the new plant was part of a series of agreements between the province and Chinese companies exceeding $1 billion.
“Xinyi has had offices in Vancouver and Markham for the past 20 years,” said Tommy Wong, president of Xinyi Canada Glass Canada.
“With our roots here, we wanted to build our first North American plant in Canada. We assessed different locations in the Greater Toronto Area and decided on Guelph-Eramosa, which we believe is an ideal location for this facility.”
The last float glass facility in Canada closed in 2008 and Canada has relied on imported glass from the United States, Europe and Asia for the last decade.
Float glass is made by “floating” molten glass on a bed of molten metal, producing glass with a uniform thickness and flat surface.
Xinyi officials expect the plant to be completed by the end of 2019, with the facility fully operational in early 2020, states a company press release.
The plant will create long-term manufacturing, engineering and technical jobs, the release notes, and it will facilitate research and development with local colleges and universities, giving students the opportunity to train and prepare to join manufacturing industries upon graduation.
Xinyi Canada is planning a 70-acre plant on a 122-acre industrial plot at Wellington Roads 124 and 32.
At one time there was a holding provision on the land to make way for a potential provincial highway. However, in 2016 the province abandoned plans for “Highway 24” and Wellington County removed the holding provision, paving the way for industrial development.
White said the company had basic criteria to meet.
“One, you had to have a big enough piece of property,” White said. “Two, you had to have highway access and so forth.
“Key to this is you have to have access to a skilled workforce. You’ve got to have people who can do the job.”
White explained that in the beginning, up to 50 employees from China with temporary visas will provide training and firefighting at the glass plant.
“Fire is an interesting thing here because this wouldn’t be a normal issue,” White said. “They need to have people on site 24/7 … because it’s running 24/7, so they bring in well trained people from China.”
The local community would also benefit from such an industrial business, White said.
“It’s almost like having an automotive company move in because it’s so large and has so many needs in terms of supplies and services,” he explained.
“This plant will generate a whole pile of economic activity locally, which should help give a boost to not only the township and the county, but also Guelph.”
He said there would be spin off into other businesses like trucking companies and suppliers of raw materials, as well as the rail lines because Xinyi Canada Glass Limited is planning to bring supplies in by rail.
Burns said the company manufactures a range of glass products.
“Everything from automotive, energy savings, architectural glass, electronics glass, solar glass for utility solar farms …” she said.
“They’re a big company and they’re a very green, innovative company, so it’s exactly the type of investment that the province and that Wellington County is looking to have.”
Burns said about 70 per cent of the product manufactured at the plant will be exported.
“If we look even bigger than Wellington County, this is really going to shift the trade imbalance because 70% of their product is going to be exported,” she said.
“So that improves our balance of trade – that really is one of the things we’re lacking in Canada.”
After the site is assessed by MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation), White said there’s the potential for several million dollars to come in from taxes.
“I would suggest, if this plant occurs, it will be the largest single taxpayer in the county and the township,” White said.
The township is currently creating a CIP (Community Improvement Program), which will include possible tax incentives for companies such as Xinyi Canada Glass Limited.
If tax incentives are approved, White said the township will receive reduced taxes from Xinyi Canada Glass Limited for a few years – but will still gain revenue it did not previously have.
The municipality will also be making more money in taxes, even with the reduction, than if it slowly built out the industrial land over a number of years, he added.
However, Guelph-Eramosa councillor David Wolk questioned the “desire by certain members of council” to provide tax exemptions to the company.
“The challenge with a CIP is to ensure that any long-awaited and much needed benefit, such as a bump in tax revenue, is not given up in exchange for too little,” Wolk wrote in a letter to the Advertiser.
He considers such tax breaks “akin to making all other taxpayers forfeit a long-awaited municipal inheritance.”
The tax revenue, Wolk added, could help address many “roads, bridges and other infrastructure requirements” in the township.
“Council has a responsibility to steward all of the township’s current and future resources, particularly tax revenues,” Wolk wrote.
“Taxpayers have a responsibility to be informed and watchful of CIP activity.”
White said he understands some people may have reservations about tax incentives.
“Other businesses have come in and invested in the community,” he said. “We greatly appreciate that and they didn’t necessarily get an incentive.
“The difference here is this is so big and so competitive and so beneficial out of the gate,” he said.
“If [Xinyi pays] … into the millions in taxes that we didn’t have before that helps us keep the tax burden on the rest of the businesses down.”
He suggested the increased tax revenue could go towards the local infrastructure deficit.
Nothing has been decided on the CIP or tax incentives. That will eventually be a decision of council, White said.
Wong said his company is excited about the plant and looks forward to working with local partners.
“The words Xin and Yi mean ‘to trust’ and ‘to honour commitment’ in Chinese,” Wong said. “Xinyi Canada is humbly asking to be a part of Guelph- Eramosa and to serve Canada. “We are committed to working with our neighbours, the township, county and province to make this a success.”