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BEHIND THE SCENES: ‘The eagle has landed’: Thorold celebrates Port Colborne EV battery facility

ThoroldToday editor Bernard Lansbergen takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on's Bernard Lansbergen, whose story "‘The eagle has landed’: Thorold celebrates Port Colborne EV battery facility" was published on May 14.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

“The eagle has landed!”

Executives of the BMI Group were met with loud cheers on Tuesday afternoon as they returned to the Thorold Multimodal Hub, after participating in a press conference, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford announced that Asahi Kasei will be building a $1.6-billion electric vehicle (EV) battery separator plant in Port Colborne.

The BMI Group has reason to celebrate the landmark deal — codenamed ‘Project Eagle’ — as it could not have happened without them. 

For the past year, Justus Veldman, who is BMI's Market and Business Development Officer, coordinated a multi-sector team to meet the infrastructural requirements for Asahi Kasei's 200-acre plant.

“We acquired the land about a year ago and we sold the land to Asahi Kasei,” Veldman told ThoroldToday. “We still have the other 200 acres available for neighbouring tenants so we’ll most likely be building some support. As well as all of the warehouse space we have here at Hayes Dana along the Welland Canal. We have the capacity to unload cargo ships. We have rail access. So the whole integrated network, we're only 13 km apart, about 900 acres strong. It's pretty powerful stuff.”

The BMI Group also owns a property up north in the Township of Red Rock, which they can use as a transportation node to bring mined minerals down into Niagara. 

Veldman said that the Port Colborne EV facility will help bolster BMI's work of industrializing the lands along the Welland Canal corridor.

“It really shows that when the private sector and local municipalities work together hand-in-glove, it works,” Veldman said. “This is a real good testament. This is nine months of real dedicated work. It’s really good.”

After the press conference in Port Colborne, local politicians and various business representatives, came together at the Thorold Multimodal Hub to celebrate the big announcement.

Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Victor Fedeli, gave the gathered crowd some background on how ‘Project Eagle’ came together.

“I always knew Asahi was the company we wanted to land here in Ontario,” he said. “I think it was that night at one of the wineries in Niagara, where it turned from a sales event into a real friendship, a real partnership. You could see in their minds they knew they had found the right people…It is kind of a mutual-admiration-society here today. Everybody is quite happy with everybody and that’s the way it was.”

Minister Fedeli said that he is flying back to Japan on Saturday, where he will once again meet with representatives of Asahi Kasei.

MP Vance Badawey took his time at the podium to thank the BMI Group from the bottom of his heart.

“We’ve had some pretty tough times in the last ten to fifteen years with a lot of companies leaving this region — and not over time, but all at once,” he said. “So we pivoted and we pivoted quickly so that we can build and grow economically on the strengths that we have here in this Region.”

Back in 2020, the City of Thorold, Welland, Port Colborne and HOPA Ports signed a memorandum of understanding to work together and develop the Welland Canal trade corridor in an effort to combat economic malaise in the Region.

BMI Group has been instrumental in furthering this memorandum through their development of the Multimodal Hub in Thorold South.

Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley said that the Port Colborne EV facility is “the most profound economic announcement in at least a quarter century here in the Niagara Region.” 

It is important for the government to invest in the future, according to Bradley.

“You’re either in the game or you’re not in the game,” he told the crowd. “If you’re not in the game, you don’t have an announcement like today…EV is the future. Electric vehicles are going to be the future for many years to come after all the other vehicles eventually are no longer with us. That’s important to remember.”

The Mayor of Port Colborne Bill Steele said that the deal took a lot of hard work. Every Friday, for the past nine months, the participating partners have been meeting to turn the dream of an EV battery facility in Port Colborne into a reality.

Mayor Steele also addressed critics who think that the plant won’t bring new jobs to the Region.

“It’s not just the jobs they create at A.K.,” he told the crowd. “It’s the auxiliary jobs that are created outside of this, whether construction companies or supply companies…That’s how many jobs are created. The local Tim Hortons hiring more, our restaurants, our retail stores, the housing that is going to go in for the thousands of jobs — and I don’t just mean at A.K. — that are going to be created across Port Colborne and Niagara for everything on this plant.”

Thorold Mayor Terry Ugulini agrees that the new plant will benefit everyone.

“This is going to bring good-paying jobs into Niagara,” he told ThoroldToday. “It isn’t just building a facility. It’s a supply chain and everything else that goes along with it, so we’re going to reap benefits from that.”

It is Mayor Ugulini's hope that the new Port Colborne EV battery facility will help bolster the growth of the Thorold Multimodal Hub.

“It’s just an extension of what we’ve been building on here in Thorold,” he said.