Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

Written by Kieran Delamont, Associate Editor, London Inc.

London’s Tilray production facility to produce Jones Soda Co. line of THC sodas

A new weed drink and edibles brand is coming to Ontario, with production located right here in London. Jones Soda Co. announced on Tuesday that it would be partnering with Tilray Brands, which has a production facility at 300 Sovereign Road, to produce its Mary Jones brand of THC-infused sodas, which the company says will be available in Q1 of this year. “Canada and Tilray are a natural fit for our first international expansion for Mary Jones following the incredible success we’ve had in our U.S. markets,” said Jones Soda CEO David Knight. Tilray’s president Blair MacNeil said they are “excited to partner with Mary Jones and to be producing their one-of-a- kind beverages at our state-of-the-art London, Ontario facility.”


The upshot: The new line of beverages will be the first new product line produced since Tilray acquired Truss ― originally a joint venture between Molson and HEXO ― last month and moved much of the beverage production equipment to its London facility. Jones Soda, a Canadian-founded (it is now Seattle-based) and relatively high-profile brand, has had success with their weed drinks in the California market, and will hope to be competitive in a sector of the Canadian cannabis industry that is still seen as having a lot of growth potential. The announcement also teases a rollout of the Mary Jones brand in additional provinces, and future product lines, likely in the edibles category, but didn’t give any details on what the two companies have planned. 

Read more: Newswire | The Market Online

London-area housing market finds some stability as home sales jump in January

London and region home sales jumped 28.7 per cent compared with the same month a year ago as lower borrowing costs associated with fixed-rate mortgages lured some buyers back to the market. Last month’s 439 home sales also marked a significant month-over-month jump from the 335 sales recorded in December, according to data released Monday by the London and St. Thomas Association of Realtors (LSTAR). LSTAR board chair Kathy Amess called it a positive start to the year. “The number of home sales is consistent with LSTAR’s 10-year-average for January, but the jump in newly listed properties is significant,” she said in a press release. “In January we saw the third highest number of new listings for that month.” January’s overall average price in LSTAR’s jurisdiction sat at $605,785, a decline from $628,047 recorded in December, but a 3.9 per cent jump compared to January 2023. “When compared to last January the average prices for townhouses and apartments saw a slight decline. However, the average price of a single-family home increased by 3.8 per cent,” Amess said.


The upshot: For the city’s realtors, who for the most part have been hunkering down for winter and casting their gaze toward the upcoming spring market, the jump in sales and listings is being viewed as positive sign that the market may finally be at its floor. Economists expect chilly conditions to continue into 2024, but with interest rate cuts finally on the horizon, a turning point may not be that far off. “LSTAR’s sales-to-new listings ratio sat at 50.3 per cent last month,” noted Amess, compared to 86.8 per cent in December. “This and our January stats indicate a stable real estate market, which is positive news for everyone.”  

Read more: LSTAR | London News Today

It’s budget battle season, and just about everyone is po’d

It’s budget season, and that means conflict, acrimony and butting heads at city hall. Mayor Josh Morgan put forth his proposed budget last week (city hall’s first budget crafted under newly enacted strong mayor legislation), and a number of players are ― to put it mildly ― not pleased. Take the LTC, for instance, which didn’t get the budget increase it was hoping for. “Riders can say goodbye to frequency improvements and hello to longer wait times if there is no funding for transit growth in the budget,” the LTC wrote on social media. The London Public Library, too, is not happy, and said the budget may mean that Carson and Glanwoth branches are facing permanent closure. And the Grand Theatre got nothing in the budget (it was seeking $250,000 a year from city hall ― $1 million over the four-year 2024-27 budget), which it said left them “disappointed.” Now begins the jockeying period, where committees and interest groups will try to pass amendments to the budget, which will be voted on at the end of February.


The upshot: With municipal budgets under strain across the province, it’s little surprise that this year is seeing heated political battles at city hall, as different interests jockey for pieces of the pie. It’s the first big political showdown for Morgan, too, with his critics noting that the police got much more of what they were asking for ($168 million annually) at the cost of other services. Of particular interest to the business community will be the LTC saying they may not be able to provide expanded service to industrial areas ― service that has been identified as a particular need for large employers. On Wednesday, local agencies pushed council on the transit piece, with Councillor David Ferreira proposing a “compromise” motion that would fund some of the expanded service that the LTC was looking for this year, while leaving decisions about future years to future budget processes. It was defeated in an eight-to-seven vote on Thursday. As it stands, the budget is calling for an 8.6 per cent property tax hike this year, a small drop from Morgan’s initial 8.8 per cent proposed hike. 

Read more: London Free Press | CBC London

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Iconic Wortley Village record shop gets second life with Grooves Records expansion

Record-bin hunters in Wortley Village won’t have to find a new haunt after all ― Grooves Records has announced it will be taking over the Village Idiot record shop this spring. The Village Idiot’s owner, Robert Charles-Dunne, announced last year that he was planning on retiring, and was hoping to pass the torch to someone new. He found that someone in Grooves Records owner Troy Hutchison, who will open his second location (the other is at 236 Dundas Street) in the space. “I wanted to retire ― and I’m doing that. The second thing is I wanted it to remain a record store, and it is,” Charles-Dunne told CBC London. “And the third thing was that I wanted the staff to have the opportunity to work in the new location, and that’s being extended to them.” Grooves will reportedly take over the space on March 1, with plans to open by April of this year.


The upshot: It’s a feel-good ending to a story that easily could have resulted in nothing more than a walk-away from a small business that has been entertaining us since 2000. Charles-Dunne was steadfast in wanting the store to stay alive in some capacity, and this pretty much achieves that. Sure, it’s a different name, but the spirit of the local neighbourhood record store lives on. “The timing of it all just worked out so perfectly,” said Troy Hutchison, owner of Grooves. “It just seemed like this was meant to be, that it was the thing to do.” 

Read more: CBC London | London Free Press

Burnbrae Farms to build new state-of-the-art egg grading facility in Strathroy

Burnbrae Farms announced plans to build a 100,000-square-foot egg grading plant in Strathroy this week, quadrupling the footprint of its current facility and adding an unspecified number of new jobs. The company expects to break ground this year on the new plant, located in the Molnar Industrial Park in Strathroy. The plan is to close its existing operation, also in Strathroy, when the new plant comes online in 2026, the company said. “We’re building extra space to accommodate extra growth,” says Margaret Hudson, CEO of Burnbrae Farms. “We have outgrown that location, and we need more space.” The current processing plant employs 120 people, and a spokesperson for the company said they “expect an increase in labour as our volume continues to grow.”


The upshot: Economic development officials from Strathroy are calling it a win, and a continuation of a long and fruitful partnership between the company and the region. “Burnbrae Farms has been a cornerstone to Strathroy-Caradoc’s business community since 1978,” said Strathroy mayor Colin Grantham. “We are very excited that Burnbrae Farms will continue to be a part of the community. Not only will Burnbrae have a new, larger facility, but they have also committed to retain their workforce here in our town, and we are very happy with their decision to remain in Strathroy.” 

Read more: Strathroy-Caradoc Economic Development | London Free Press

Sandra Datars Bere returning to London as next city manager

The city has hired its next city manager, snagging the current city manager from St. Thomas, Sandra Datars Bere, to take over the job come this May. Datars Bere will take over from Lynne Livingstone, who announced her retirement in late 2023 and who will officially retire next month. “I am thrilled that Sandra has chosen to rejoin the City of London,” said Mayor Josh Morgan. “Her experience and leadership will ensure that our organization and community continue to move forward towards our goals of becoming an even more vibrant, caring and resilient city.” Datars Bere previously spent seven years leading London’s housing and social services portfolio, as well as stints as the chief administrative officer for Bruce County and city manager in St. Thomas.


The upshot: There’s plenty to like in the appointment, not least of which is that it’s someone who won’t need much time to get up to speed. Datars Bere has been working in the region for the bulk of the last two decades, and has been closely involved with the team working on the Volkswagen-backed PowerCo SE file. At a time when the trend is towards greater economic cooperation and integration between the two regions, having someone familiar to both sides can only really be seen as a bonus. “I’m happy to be back and can’t be more excited than to have the opportunity to come back to the City of London, to my home community,” Datars Bere told council this week. “My good colleague and longtime friend Lynne has done the great work of leading you over the last number of years, and I’m looking forward to continuing that work with my colleagues here as well.” 

Read more: London.ca | London News Today

Dispatch: February 9, 2024

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

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