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The Changing Economic Horizon Of Ontario Chatham


The journey of the city of Chatham began as a naval dockyard as it is situated on River Thames. A decade or so back, it was merged with the county of Kent. The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is a single-level administrative unit with no provincial administrative level above or below it. It is situated in the southwest of Ontario, Canada. The municipality shares a long shoreline with lakes Erie and St. Clair on either side. Due to its lake-side location on two sides, the humidity levels are generally high throughout the year. Historically, this city has provided the refuge to the black slaves who used to come here by the so called Underground Railroad Network. During the times of Civil War, they settled in the nearby villages.  Although most of its population is English-spoken, a few of its settlements are French-speaking. Its schools and colleges also have the French and English as separate mediums of instructions. Highway 401 runs very close to it, connecting it with twin metropolis of Montreal and Toronto.

Traditionally, Chatham-Kent’s economy has been built predominantly on the agricultural and automotive sectors. Some of the big names in the automotive sector like Chrysler and Gray Dort motors are related to Ontario Chatham. So much so that the city is famous as “The Classic Car Capital of the World.” It is home to the biggest Vintage Car Restoration and Auction companies of the world. Leveraging on the traditional economic base of the region, modern agriculture-based units have been set up. These include one of the largest modern processing units for the fresh and frozen vegetables, seed breeding, bio-technology, and fish production in Canada. Further diversifying its agricultural sector, the region has recently witnessed mushrooming of vineyards. Also, the largest ethanol plant of Canada has been built here. The plant serves the needs of chemical and beverages industries. Ontario Chatham is also setting up eco-friendly energy production projects based on wind energy and natural gas.  Many wind farms have been set up on the shores of Lake Erie and also in the municipality.

Of late, the region’s conventional economic sectors of agriculture, chemicals, and automobiles are facing the heat of competition. To rejuvenate them, new units with modern technological inputs are sought to be set up. This is being done so that the traditional wisdom and resource base can be harnessed to the full. There are regional plans for the development of South-Western Ontario as a hub for the development of new bio-products. Since Ontario Chatham is the largest community in the region, it is bound to get the benefits. To reap these benefits by enhancing the competitiveness of existing industries in the best possible way, an organization, SOBIN (Southwestern Ontario Bio-products Innovation Network), has been formed. The region has plenty of skilled labor related to the traditional sectors. To upgrade skills and train the workers in the usage of new technology, the rural development projects are also undertaken.

The signs of changing land-use patterns in Chatham are now very prominent. It is fast developing into a major retail center of this region of Ontario with five superstores already dotting its landscape. Not to lag behind technologically, it has become the base for the many technology companies as well. These provide communication solutions in areas of Internet and hi-speed data transfer, telephony, and networking.

Due to its long and rich history, Chatham has much to offer to the tourists. It beautifully combines the esthetics of the rural and urban surroundings. It has many good tourist spots like recreational parks, heritage buildings, art galleries, museums, entertainment centers, and lake side location. The local municipal administration has realized the potential of tourism in this region and sought to provide all the necessities to tourists. These include safe places of stay, eateries offering multi-cultural cuisines, modern communication facilities, banking and finance centers, etc. The earnings from tourism contribute to the coffers of the municipality.  This is to generate employment, give a boost to related businesses of hotels, transportation and building new infrastructure, thereby, furthering the diversification of its economic base.

The Chatham-Kent provides a good example of how to capitalize on the traditional economic strengths and at the same time be receptive to the new opportunities of economic development.

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