High hopes for former Chesterville coffee factory

Resident of Chesterville, Ont., say they're thrilled that a former Nestlé coffee and chocolate plant could soon be reborn as a marijuana processing facility, bringing up to 300 jobs.

If approved, shuttered Nestlé plant will reopen as a marijuana processing facility

The plan is to reopen the old Nestlé plant in Chesterville, Ont., as a marijuana manufacturing facility. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Around 2,000 people live in Chesterville, Ont., a village about 60 kilometres southeast of Ottawa, and most of them can remember when the Nestlé chocolate and coffee factory shut its doors in 2006.

"It was devastating," said North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan, whose township includes Chesterville.

"Hundreds of people were out of work [from the] only job they'd ever known. Generations of families relied on that factory."

Now Duncan says he's hearing a renewed optimism from residents following the announcement that the factory should once again become a major local employer.

Eric Duncan is Mayor of the Township of North Dundas, which includes Chesterville. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

An agreement between IDP Group, the current owners of the the former plant, and an investment company that specializes in the cannabis business would lead to a full retrofit of the 373,000 square foot facility to produce marijuana.

If approved, IDP Group will run the plant processing operation while Vancouver financier Cannabis Wheaten will get a cut of the profits.

"It's a big step in the right direction," said Duncan.

"A lot of work still has to be done, but I think a lot of people in the area are excited about it."

Hundreds of jobs

Duncan says more people working stable jobs would have a ripple effect throughout the area, as people spend more on real estate and local businesses. 

Hamed Asl, a partner at IDP Group said in two to three years as many as 300 full-time employees could be working there. 

He says the company was already installing and testing "indoor farming systems" in anticipation of the deal being finalized.

According the the agreement Cannabis Wheaten would inject an immediate $12 million dollar investment toward phase one of the redevelopment: 100,000 square feet of production space that can produce around 7.5 million grams of cannabis per year.

"Everything you have to ramp up a major operation is here," said Asl.

"You have a lot of height — when it comes to vertical farming that's really important — 40 acres of industrial land adjacent to the factory that's ready for development, and no shortage of power or water."

Asl said it was the "can-do" attitude of the Chesterville community leaders that initially drew the company to the area. 

"They were excited, they wanted to do it, there was a lot of support," he said. 

Nearby precedent

Long time Chesterville resident Ron Whittaker worked at the old Nestlé factory for 36 years until the plant closed

He says he has no intention of returning to work, but he's happy to hear there could be opportunities for others.

"It's jobs. That's great. Everybody need jobs!" said Whittaker.

"It's 200 jobs and everybody needs jobs," says former Nestlé plant employee Ron Whittaker, with his wife Sheila. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Chesterville has only to look west at the community of Smiths Falls to see how it could all play out. 

The city's main employer Hershey shut down its chocolate plant in 2009 but three years ago, it reopened as a medicinal marijuana facility.

With files from Kimberley Molina