Western Research Park

Second cannabis company puts down roots in Aylmer facility

AYLMER – The cannabis industry is helping breathe new life into a former Southwestern Ontario tobacco plant.

Construction is underway on a $2-million cannabis oil extraction facility in the Elgin Innovation Centre (EIC), located in the former Imperial Tobacco plant on John Street in Aylmer.

Motif will occupy a 2,000-square-metre space that will employ up to 50 workers when it’s operational in the fall, say the company’s founders.

Motif will be the 25th business to set up shop in the 93,000-square-metre complex left vacant after Imperial Tobacco moved out in 2008.

Company co-founders Mario Naric, a former engineer with Imperial Oil, and Ian Haase, the former director of student entrepreneurship at Western University, explored a handful of locations in London before finding the perfect fit in the Elgin Innovation Centre.

“You want to find a landlord that believes in your vision . . . that was a big deal for us,” Naric said.

Motif is the second cannabis company to move into in the innovation centre. In 2016, WeedMD started growing marijuana in an 8,000-square-metre building that the company has since bought.

Marijuana companies across Canada are preparing for the introduction of cannabis-infused edibles, extracts and topicals – products will become legal no later than Oct. 17.

The market for alternative cannabis products like food, drinks and topicals could be worth as much as $2.7 billion annually, according to a report released last week by accounting firm Deloitte.

The Motif plant will be capable of processing up to 250,000 kilograms of hemp and cannabis biomass annually, extracting compounds like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Some large-scale pot producers are adding extraction plants to their existing operations, but it’s not an easy or inexpensive process, Haase said.

“Our goal is to be able to produce these products cheaper than they can in house,” he said, noting the company has raised $5.2 million in funding.

Motif has already signed agreements worth $25 million with Ontario pot producers over the next two years, Haase said, declining to identify them.

Jack Baribeau, the chief executive of the Elgin Innovation Centre, said he didn’t envision cannabis companies would be among his tenants when he bought the space from Imperial for an undisclosed sum in 2010.

“I guess at the time that was a little bit ahead of the game,” he said. “We really didn’t really have set mission other than to break it into smaller pieces and create jobs for the community.”

The sprawling complex – where more than 800 tobacco workers once toiled – is now home to businesses ranging from shrimp farming and steel fabrication to information technology and automotive packaging, employing a combined 400 workers.

With the centre at just half its capacity, tenants have the option of expanding their operations, Baribeau said.

“It gives them vision without the capital expense and allows them to consider growth,” he said, adding additional space is also offered on a monthly basis.

Motif is already eyeing expansion, with a deal in place that gives them first dibs at an additional 7,400 square metres.

“There’s a lot more space for us to grow into,” Haase said.


Article originally published in The London Free Press.