Lakeside Produce Inc. plans to add 203 new jobs at its vegetable processing plant in Leamington, once it completes a $7-million expansion project over the next few years.

Co-owner Chris Cervini made the announcement Tuesday, saying the expansion will help the company penetrate overseas markets, such as Asia.

About 40 new employees have been hired at the processing plant already with the rest to be added over the next several years. The jobs pay between $11 an hour and what was described as "executive wages."

When the expansion is complete in 2019, Lakeside Produce expects to have 515 employees. Increased production will help meet the growing demand for its products, such as bell peppers, cucumbers and specialty tomatoes, according to Cervini.

The company received more than $1 million from the provincial government to help with the project. Minister of Agriculture, Jeff Leal, was at Lakeside Produce Tuesday to announce the funding.

Lakeside's ability to create jobs and increase exports heavily factored into the decision to award the company with provincial money.

"Ontario is an exporting province," Leal said. "Those value added jobs are important."

The latest job-creation announcement illustrates how the Leamington community has finally clawed its way back from the 740 jobs lost when H.J. Heinz Co. shut down its operations in 2014, explained Mayor John Paterson.

He cited the ability of companies like Highbury Canco, Lakeside Produce and others to fill the void left behind by Heinz.

"There's anywhere from the hiring of 10 employees to 50 employees in each one of those instances, so yeah, we're ahead of where we were," Paterson said.