Almost a year after a huge, empty former institution for developmentally disabled people in Smiths Falls, Ont., was sold to a developer, the first business in the complex has started up.

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Smiths Falls Acting Mayor Shawn Panko toured the new laundry facility with local politicians and business leaders earlier this week. (CBC)

"It's very encouraging to see the whole facility starting to get operating again, and we know that it's just the tip of the iceberg of what will be happening here in the next few years," said Smiths Falls Acting Mayor Shawn Pankow.

The complex boasts 819,000 square feet of space on 143 hectares of land. It was sold to J.A. Gallipeau Construction in May 2011 for just $100,000 after the province shut down the residential health facility in 2009.

Joe Gallipeau plans to convert the facility into a seniors' residence, with extra room for commercial businesses. The first to get running was a laundry company.

Its director, Larry Hart, told CBC News the company has already hired 18 people, and that it plans to hire more.

Town welcomes needed economic boost

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Joe Gallipeau bought the former Rideau Regional Centre last summer. He plans to have his Gallipeau Centre fully occupied in about 10 years. (CBC)

Business leaders and politicians toured the site earlier this week. The development is welcome news in the small town, which needs an economic boost. Smiths Falls has suffered hundreds of job losses in recent years following the closure of the Hershey's chocolate plant, Stanley Tools and the Rideau Regional Centre.

It's been two and half years since a bottled water company announced it would take over the Hershey plant, but those jobs never came and the company has since left the area.

Gallipeau said he hopes to have the entire facility occupied in about 10 years.