P.E.I. town to turn old sawmill into new business
By Taylor Fredericks
Aug. 19, 2016 - It's been almost nine years since the Georgetown Timber plant in Georgetown, P.E.I., ceased operations, but thanks to the strategic vision and collaboration of local stakeholders and the provincial and federal governments, things will once again be busy on the yard.
By Taylor Fredericks
The Government of Prince Edward Island has announced that, with the aid of provincial and federal funding totaling $2.6 million, the dormant 40,000 sq ft sawmill will be converted into multi-tenant facility housing new and existing businesses.
Georgetown, a small community of 700 on the eastern coast of P.E.I., was once a key industrial hub for the province, boasting the island’s only shipyard, East Isle, in addition to its largest sawmill. Owned and operated by J. D. Irving, both properties were forced to shut down operations in the wake of the economic downturn caused by the American housing market crash – Georgetown Timber in 2007, and the East Isle Shipyard in 2011.
Now, with the announcement of plans to convert the sawmill into a new business hub, local stakeholders are hopeful that the town will regain an important part of its identity.
“Georgetown had always thought of itself as a little industrial town,” says Tim Mair, the president of Georgetown Port Inc., who will lease and operate the redeveloped property. “We had the shipyard and the timber yard, and unfortunately we lost both, which was quite a blow for us. We’ve started to focus on tourism over the last few years, but we always wanted to get those manufacturing jobs back.”
The project has already secured the first tenant for the new building: the nearby Eastern Fabricators, who will move out of their 13,800 sq ft facility in Pooles Corners and occupy approximately 20,000 sq ft of the repurposed mill. Mair believes the company will be an excellent fit with what they are trying to achieve in Georgetown, and hopes other likeminded businesses will follow their lead.
“The fact that there was a possible tenant in the waiting was a big factor in making this project a reality,” he says. “Eastern Fabricators have been looking for a space for some time, and this building will give them an opportunity to grow and expand their workforce, which will be great both for them and for the community.”
Mair was also quick to point to the important role that the provincial and federal governments played in bringing the project to fruition. The federally-funded Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will provide $750,000 through its Innovation Communities Fund, while the provincial government will lend $1.9 million through the P.E.I. Century Fund to help fund renovations.
“There was a lot of co-operation between ourselves, the province, and the federal government,” says Mair. “I know that at the provincial level, they’ve been working to find projects like this for some time. It’s been great having everybody on the same page.”
Heath MacDonald, P.E.I.’s minister of economic development and tourism, acknowledges that the provincial government has been working diligently to identify projects like this, which they believe will spur growth and development in the province. He also points to the important role that the town of Georgetown had in making this vision a reality.
“It was the determination of the community that allowed us to do this relatively quickly,” says MacDonald. “I have to give them credit. In working closely with the Georgetown Port Inc. and the mayor of Georgetown, we were able to get this project moving.”
Taken together with the town’s growing tourism activities – which include clam digging, deep sea fishing, boat tours, golf, and a number of historical buildings – Georgetown’s return to industry should position it as an Atlantic success in the years ahead.
Minister MacDonald, though, is confident the effects of the new business hub will be felt far beyond the town borders.
“Our small to medium enterprises are very important to us,” he notes. “We led the country in growth exports last year, and we’re on track to do that again this year. Building and obtaining structures like this allows us to support businesses that can scale up and expand. We feel that it’s going to benefit not just Georgetown, but all of Eastern P.E.I. and P.E.I. as a whole.”
While it’s too early to say when the first round of renovations will be complete, initial work will include, upgrades to plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, parking lot improvements, a 1,800 sq ft addition to house a new loading dock, and general interior upgrades, including partition walls and doorways.