The former Siemens plant in Hamilton's north end is still a ghost of its former self — but not for long. Empire Steel Inc. has taken over, and come mid-summer, they hope to have the place rattling again with the sounds of manufacturing.
"I can't have this place empty. It has to go to work," said Sherif Khalifa, Empire Steel's president. "We have some big shoes here to fill."
Five hundred and fifty pairs of shoes, to be exact. That's how many jobs were lost when Siemens left Hamilton in 2011. The plant had been open for decades, but was lured to North Carolina — a right to work state — with a $157 million incentive package offered by the state that Ontario just couldn't match.
But the property got a fresh start when Khalifa was handed the keys for the Myler Street site on January 1. The property is massive — 450,000 square feet of space sprawling over 18 acres of land and equipped with the largest overhead cranes in Canada. Have a look at this one:
Big, huh? Khalifa spends a lot of time walking around the space as employees frenetically work to outfit the plant for the importing and exporting of flatroll and carbon steel. That steel gets shipped overseas and is used to make everything from cars to heating ducts.
As he walks, Khalifa says he can't help but get caught up in the history of the 110-year-old building.
"Every time I walk around I end up looking at spots that are over 100 years old," Khalifa said. "And I think about those earlier generations — thinking about what that person was doing in that exact spot back then."
"It's like an entity when you walk in here. There's a magnitude to it."
Khalifa grew up in the U.S., and moved to Canada 17 years ago after finishing college. Though currently based out of Markham, he's putting in some long days at the new Empire Steel plant. Six days a week, 15-hour days long. "I treat this place like my fourth child," he laughed. And he still doesn't have an office yet. "I just sit in any office."
When Siemens cleared out, they left a lot behind on the property. Office space is furnished and ready to go. The deep fat fryers sit in the kitchen, untouched. And the massive industrial cranes are still fully operational.
Even before things were fully up and running, the space was still being used — the upper floors of one of the buildings was turned into a makeshift hospital to film scenes from The Calling, an upcoming Susan Sarandon movie.
Empire Steel is a smaller company than Siemens, and won't be employing as many workers — about 150-200 compared to 550. But any kind of growth in the steel industry in a difficult economy is a good thing, Khalifa says. Because so many parts of the plant are in such good shape, things will be up and running much sooner than usual, he says.
Even still, he's anxious to start producing, and become part of Hamilton's economic heart, he says.
"I'm sure we're here to stay for many years."