Ottawa Business Journal March 2020

Page 23


MARCH 2020



Loblaw readies massive expansion to Cornwall distribution centre With 5.5 million square feet – and growing – of warehousing and distribution space, Cornwall anchors position as Eastern Canadian hub BY LEO VALIQUETTE


commenced operations in Ottawa’s east end last summer.) After Walmart took the leap, other brands took notice and decided to follow. Why? Walmart, Loblaw and tire distributor Benson Group did not respond to interview requests by press time, but others who service Cornwall’s warehousing and distribution sector did offer their thoughts on the subject. “Once one settles in, it becomes a blueprint to others,” said Bob Gauthier, president of local trucking company Seaway Express.


Walmart occupies some three million square feet of warehouse space in Cornwall spread across two distribution centres.

between Cornwall and Toronto, where comparable commercial land can cost as much as $2 million an acre. “When I talk to real estate agents in

Toronto and tell them they can get land here at $30,000 an acre serviced, they don’t believe me,” he said. Continued on next page


Back in the ’90s, Cornwall city council decided to actively promote the area’s largest advantage – “serviced commercial land that was shovelready and available for immediate development,” said Bob Peters, manager of Cornwall Economic Development. The city expanded the Cornwall Business Park, offering up the huge tracts of serviced land that distribution centres require. It also waved development charges. Even today, the average cost of land per acre in the park is low compared to major cities on the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. Yves Poirier, president of local trucking company Minimax Express Transportation, travels frequently

MARCH 2020

hen grocery and retail giant Loblaw announced in January that it would shutter warehousing operations in Ottawa and Laval while expanding them in Cornwall, many saw it as a corporate restructuring and jobs lost to automation. But that simplistic narrative misses a powerful story of how Cornwall grew to become one of Eastern Canada’s major warehousing and distribution hubs. Municipal policy decisions, a strategic geographic location and other competitive advantages have helped to attract some of the country’s biggest corporations to this city of 50,000 residents. Loblaw’s Shoppers Drug Mart facility isn’t the only warehousing and distribution operation in Cornwall. In fact, multiple companies have set up shop over the past 20 years. These warehousing, distribution and head office operations collectively add up to about 5.5 million square feet (and growing). The heavyweight is Walmart Logistics, which first arrived in 1999. Today, it operates two Cornwall distribution centres, each 1.5 million square feet in size. (Compare that, for a moment, to Amazon’s one-millionsquare-foot fulfillment centre that

Loblaw is expanding an existing Shoppers Drug Mart regional distribution centre, operated by Matrix Logistics in Cornwall to 900,000 square feet.