The City of Sarnia

Eastern Canada’s Energy Hub
By: Mudeeha Yousaf

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A hub for all things oil and energy, the City of Sarnia located in southern Ontario is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a bang and with the vision of furthering its population, economy and pivotal industries. Sarnia, located in Lambton County, is invested in the continued evolution of changing the economy, not only to retain citizens and attract new ones, but also to put its name on the map and stand out for its innovative practices. The city houses a 165 square-kilometer area of land in the northwest corner of Sarnia-Lambton and bolsters a population of over 70, 000, combining the comfort of small-town living with the amenities of a large urban city.

Sarnia, the largest city on Lake Huron, started its roots as Port Sarnia in 1857 then shifted to a massive railroad community, to a manufacturing and petrochemical centre, and today participates in a combination of these activities and is pivotal to the nations economy, being the gateway to the Canada-United States border. The city houses large refining and chemical companies and nurtures a booming petrochemical industry, and under the leadership of Mayor Mike Bradley, Sarnia is active in driving the municipality’s economy forward. Mayor Bradley, who is Chair of the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership – an organization responsible for economic development in the region – has had a hand in growing the city for the last 26 years and is in his 8th term as city leader. Mayor Bradley spoke to Business Elite Canada about the cities pivotal year and roaring energy industry.

Being well established as an economy driven by the petrochemical industry, the city aims to build its future based on the industry that has shaped its past, though wants to strategize a more effective way to develop this. “It is our strength and will continue to be our strength,” says Mayor Bradley. “Though, we will also move towards diversification and that is an on-going effort.” The next step for the development of the city is to move towards alternative fuels and energy sources, such as that found in bio-fuels. “Most of the work for improving our petrochemical industry in Sarnia goes through the University of Western Ontario Research Centre located right here in Sarnia. They take a leadership role including processing oil from the west.” The Western University Research Park established by Western University is a joint venture with the County of Lambton as well as the city of Sarnia and specializes in industrial biotechnology.

Internationally known as an industrial chemical centre, Sarnia is the base for many refineries because of its central location, access to raw materials and transportation routes. “We are eastern Canada’s energy centre,” says Mayor Bradley glowingly. “But we’re often undervalued in the Ontario economy.” The city is the home of the groundbreaking, state-of-the-art, BioAmber plant. “It’s the first of its kind in North America that takes acid from corn and turns it into anything from car parts to make-up. We have sites that were former operations that can be redeveloped and environmentally ready to go.” It is because of Sarnia’s large presence in the petrochemical industry that large refineries, such as Imperial Oil and Shell Canada, operate in the city, and Chemical Valley is home to over 62 facilities which is the heart of Sarnia’s infrastructure.

The city is also instrumental in adding value to the economy through its rich manufacturing sector for the U.S. and Canada. It also bolsters a booming labor market with over 5000 construction jobs for a high level of skilled laborers. A key aspect of the city, shares Bradley, is also to attract business, which has been a difficult climb since the recession in 2008. “We focused on other industries like call centers to create jobs and recently opened a 300 person call center a few months ago. We’ve also focused on gaming and other sectors, but the major industry is chemical and bio-fuels,” he shares. “Lambton College is a major educational facility which is integrating with us in training, and instrumental in developing our workforce and training for the petrochemical industry.”

Sarnia celebrated a century of existence through celebrations in their downtown core with a festival event which attracted over 10, 000 people, and featured successful Sarnia natives. “100 years is a blimp in time but in Canada it is significant. It is a benchmark of where we’re going,” says Mayor Bradley. “Our quality of life, workforce, educational facilities, affordable housing and proximity to the U.S. is significant to attracting people and is our strength as a city.”