Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development has responded to Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce officials on a request for the government to create a national bioeconomy framework and continue to support bioindustrial companies and projects through business accelerators and venture capitalists.

Minister Navdeep Bains said the government is incorporating the input of the Chamber and its members into its action plans.

“The Innovation and Skills Plan adopts a multifaceted approach,” said Bains in a letter to Chamber CEO Shirley de Silva and Board Chair Charles Fisher. “In particular, innovation support programs were expanded to new areas, including bioscience industries, as part of the Strategic Innovation Fund, and investments for the clean technology sector were increased substantially.”

Bains also pointed to the government’s $1.89 million in spending around transforming bio-mass into value-added products, including advanced biofuels.

He reminded business leaders, through his letter, of last January’s launch of the Clean Growth Hub. That initiative has a mandate to help clean technology producers and users navigate clean technology programs.

Bains suggested that members email the Hub’s team of experts if they would like to receive more information about the Clean Growth Hub.

Shirley de Silva said it’s important that the Chamber initiate discussions such as this on an ongoing basis to remind government officials at all levels of the views of business.

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As part of a continuing series of articles on various initiatives that the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce is working on, this week’s update is on a project to connect businesses with international students and graduates.

Like many other rural communities in Southwestern Ontario, Sarnia-Lambton is facing a demographic shift. The population is getting older and as people retire, it will be harder to find qualified people to hire and take ownership of businesses.  There is a pressing need to attract and retain young entrepreneurs and families.

Fortunately, over 1,000 international students choose to come here each year to attend Lambton College. Many of these students already have some form of post-secondary education and business experience. How do we connect these students with local job and investment opportunities once they graduate?

This is a question that the Chamber has set out to answer. Working in partnership with a number of other local agencies, the Chamber has secured a grant to identify how it can connect these students and graduates with local businesses that have particular skills gaps and succession needs.

“We are excited to be taking steps to encourage students who come here seeking a better future to consider becoming part of our community on a long-term basis,” said Chamber CEO Shirley de Silva.

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Still on the hunt for a very special holiday gift for someone? We have a great suggestion in the form of a Chamber-produced gift book—”Discoveries that Matter: Simply Sensational”—that’s now available for sale at our offices.

Sponsors have already picked up their copies of this remarkable production but we’ve set aside a limited number of copies for general sale.

They are priced at $50 plus 5% book tax for one copy, $40 plus 5% book tax each for two copies, and $30 each plus 5% book tax for three copies. Purchases at this discounted rate must be made at the same time and through the Chamber offices only.

“We’ve had very positive comments from people who have seen ‘Discoveries that Matter,'” notes Shirley de Silva, president and CEO.

Want a glimpse of the gift book? See below for a “teaser”—a PDF of Col. Chris Hadfield’s foreword to “Discoveries that Matter: Simply Sensational.”

Chris Hadfield Foreword

Stop by the Chamber or call us at (519) 336-2400 to reserve a very special gift for someone that will appreciate this unique expression of the Sarnia-Lambton area.

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Jon McEachran, right, is pictured with his father, Ross McEachran.

When Jon McEachran returned to Sarnia-Lambton a few years ago, it was after attending university in Utah and working in the insurance business even further away from home.

With family being one of his strongest values, McEachran jumped at the chance to return home, going into business with his entrepreneur father in buying the Chemical Valley assets of Fiberglas Canada and building out Vidal Street Industrial Park, a venture that became a very successful rail logistics company.

That was 2005 and the company grew over the years, eventually expanding into Corunna with the purchase of land occupied by the former Ethyl Canada manufacturing site.

Along the way, McEachran, like his father an entrepreneur at heart, also won a seat on Sarnia City Council and served for two terms before the time crunch involved in the business made that impractical.

In 2017, he joined the board of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce, not long after he and his father, Ross McEachran, sold their shares in VIP Rail.

Today, McEachran continues to exercise his entrepreneurial muscle through Stag Island Investments, a company he formed after leaving VIP.

As far as his future is concerned, one thing remains clear: Sarnia-Lambton is home and we can expect to see more action down the road as he seeks to contribute to the growth of the community.



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Maintaining a visible presence on the area’s political landscape is just part of what those connected with the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce enjoy as part of their membership.

That was the case with the inaugural meeting of Sarnia City Council this past Monday, which was attended by Chamber staff.

Pictured from left are Monica Shepley, manager of Advocacy and Policy Development; David Boushy, re-elected as City/County Councillor; Shirley de Silva, president and CEO; and Mayor Mike Bradley.

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If you’re a business in the transportation industry, do you feel there is a lack of available training to adequately prepare workers?

The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce Trade Corridor Task Force is gathering input that may be used to design a post-secondary program and we want to hear from you.

Please complete a quick survey (available HERE) to help us understand your training needs.

Questions and comments about this survey can be sent to Monica Shepley, manager of Advocacy and Policy Development,

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Copies of a Chamber-produced gift book—”Discoveries that Matter: Simply Sensational”—have arrived at our offices and are ready to be picked up by the sponsors of this high-quality showcase of our area.

With that in mind, limited copies of the book are also available for sale, making a great Christmas gift.

Want a glimpse of the gift book? See below for a “teaser”—a PDF of Col. Chris Hadfield’s foreword to “Discoveries that Matter: Simply Sensational.”

Chris Hadfield Foreword

“We’ve had very positive comments from people who have seen ‘Discoveries that Matter,'” notes Shirley de Silva, president and CEO.

Copies of the book can be purchased and picked up at the Chamber offices, 556 Christina St N, Sarnia.

They are priced at $50 plus 5% book tax for one copy, $40 plus 5% book tax each for two copies, and $30 each plus 5% book tax for three copies. Purchases at this discounted rate must be made at the same time and through the Chamber offices only.


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The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) have released Moving Forward: A Strategic Approach to Ontario’s Transportation Needs, a policy report that calls on the Ontario Government to develop a Long-Term Transportation Plan. To address the current and future transportation needs of the province, the report highlights three areas of opportunity that will help improve the mobility of Ontarians.

In a recent OCC survey, 60 percent of Ontario businesses rated existing transportation infrastructure as fair or poor. With much of the existing infrastructure in Ontario built in the 1950s and 1960s and nearing the end of its useful life, the OCC recognizes that the costs of investment are high, and Ontario is far behind when it comes to building new and maintaining old infrastructure.

“Transportation is the backbone of our economy, affecting the movement of people and goods and the everyday lives of Ontarians and businesses,” said Shirley de Silva, President and CEO of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce. “Yet, limited transit connectivity, aging assets, unique regional needs, and a historic under-investment in infrastructure have led to a significant gap between the actual and needed infrastructure in Ontario. This has led to real challenges faced by Ontario residents and businesses every single day.”

The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce and the OCC developed 13 tangible and pragmatic transportation recommendations for a stronger Ontario within three key areas of opportunity. This approach will help to address the current and future transportation needs of the province with a focus on:

  1. Transit planning governance;
  2. Moving people and goods by rail; and
  3. Autonomous vehicles.

The report points to VIA Rail’s High-Frequency Rail proposal as a near-term, affordable solution to moving people, reducing congestion on Highway 401, lowering emissions and freeing up the movement of freight. For years, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce and RAIL Advocacy Sarnia-Lambton have been advocating for High-Frequency Rail.

Mabel Higgins and Jim Houston, co-chairs of Rail Advocacy in Lambton (RAIL), noted with interest the report’s recommendations for Southern Ontario. “The movement of people is imperative in raising our social and economic outlook,” said Higgins. “Swift implementation of this report’s recommendations could nudge action as early as the new year. Celebrating VIAs 40th Anniversary in Sarnia this summer was a reminder of the possibilities.”

The Chamber’s Shirley de Silva pointed to the importance of transportation infrastructure to the business community. “Fully half of Ontario businesses view this issue as being critical to their competitiveness,” she said. “Moving forward, the province needs a plan that is strategic, provides value for public dollars, optimizes existing assets, leverages the private sector and technology, and takes into account the unique needs of our province.”

The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce and the OCC have been active on the transportation file for years, looking at transit and transportation governance, the use of rail for the movement of both people and goods, and the province’s autonomous vehicle readiness. Their recent policy report on transportation makes the case for a Long-Range Transportation Plan that can deliver a strategy for better managing the province’s interconnected transportation assets and serving the needs of both Ontario businesses and residents.

The full report from the OCC can be seen HERE.

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Last week we began a series of articles outlining various initiatives the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce is engaged in. This week the focus is on improving and revitalizing the Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport, which is owned by the City of Sarnia.

After hearing from the business community that flight cancellations were becoming a problem, the Chamber decided that something must be done. The airport is a community asset and an economic building block in need of a development strategy.

With that in mind, the Chamber called a meeting of representatives from the City of Sarnia, the operator of the airport (Scottsdale Aviation) and Tourism Sarnia-Lambton to see what could be done. Since that meeting, several key accomplishments have resulted:

  • The City of Sarnia announced it would develop a master plan to improve the airport facilities and its marketing strategy. The Chamber of Commerce was acknowledged as a lead partner in the initiative.
  • The City, with the Chamber’s support, conducted surveys and consultation sessions over the summer to seek input on the master plan.
  • The City hosted one of our most popular Business After 5 events of the year at the Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport. The evening included a behind the scenes tour of the terminal, the opportunity to meet with an Air Canada representative, and a draw for $1,000 Air Canada travel voucher.
  • Air Canada announced it would replace its use of the 18-seat Beechcraft with 37-seat Bombardier Dash-8s.

The Chamber plans to review the airport management plan when it is presented to Sarnia City Council in the coming months.

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We often refer to board members at the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce. But who are these people? What’s their background and what’s their vision for an organization that has been helping local businesses grow for more than a century?

This week we introduce Ryan Bell, who began his career as a lawyer after graduating from Western Law and joining GMSB—formally known as George, Murray, Shipley & Bell LLP.

Not unsurprisingly, the “Bell” in the firm is his father, D’Arcy Bell. And equally unsurprising is the fact that the firm has been a Chamber member “for longer than anyone can remember,” says Ryan, who became a board member at the Chamber in 2015 and is currently first vice chair.

A “born and raised” Sarnian, Ryan first attended King George Public School, then Northern Collegiate. He then went to McMaster University for his undergraduate degree (in philosophy).

In his youth, he was active in local minor sports, most notably curling, in which he achieved success at the regional and provincial level representing the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club and Northern.

He worked as a summer student for several years at GMSB before joining the firm as an associate upon his call to the Bar in 2014.

Not unlike his father, Ryan is focused in real estate, wills and estates, corporate/commercial, and municipal law, and he looks forward to forging long-lasting relationships with his father’s clients as well as new ones.

Ryan is married to Lila Palychuk, who is an accountant at MPW Chartered Professional Accountants. His younger brother, Graham, is a financial adviser at Barill & Company in Sarnia, and Ryan’s mother, Janis, is a retired nurse.

Outside of work, Ryan is an avid home cook and enjoys many outdoor pursuits. He also has a passion for reading, writing, indie music, and video games. 

In addition to his role as a director on the board of the Chamber, Ryan serves as Chair of the Sarnia Lambton Children’s Aid Society and also sits on the board of the Dow Centre for Youth.

Ryan believes the highest priority of the Chamber is implementing the new strategic plan that was adopted in 2018, one that looks to meet the challenges facing Chambers across Canada by restructuring memberships, engaging youth, embracing technology, and (as always) helping members grow their business in a changing world.

“I believe that we have to be progressive and inclusive in order to foster a vibrant business community moving forward,” he added.

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