A Small Town that Packs a Pretty Big Punch

Town of Tecumseh, ON

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Only a few minutes from the Detroit-Windsor border, Tecumseh’s businesses are within a day’s drive to at least 100 million people in North America, while residents enjoy the friendly atmosphere of a small town and the amenities of city life.
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If you are a business owner looking for an ideal location to expand or relocate or if you are an energetic retiree who dreams of starting a small business as a second career, the Town of Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara maintains you need look no further. “When I talk about Tecumseh, I like to use something from former U.S. President Obama who said, ‘Yes, we can!’”

“We’re a small community of about 25,000,” he says of the southwest Ontario town where he has served on the town council since 1991 and been elected mayor four times since 2003. “But I think we pack a pretty big punch in terms of what we do here and what we offer to all generations: good schools (English, French and French Immersion) beautiful parks, trails, recreation facilities, retail, services and – key to any town’s success – jobs.”

In fact, Tecumseh boasts a five percent unemployment rate, which is two percent lower than the national average. This is a result of its growing industrial and commercial sectors which have access to excellent transportation routes. The median household income in 2005 was $90,206, well above the Ontario provincial average of $60,455, while housing costs are among the lowest in Canada. For the price of one home in the Greater Toronto Area, someone who wants to relocate could purchase a similar home in Tecumseh while banking almost sixty percent of the remaining equity from the sale. In addition, low water and tax rates make homeownership very attractive.

A 2016 customer satisfaction survey indicated that ninety-nine percent of the town’s residential and business communities believed they had a superior standard of living with eighty-four percent saying the town is moving forward in the right direction. The results are significantly higher than those of most Canadian municipalities, which on average, received a fifty-six percent approval rating.

Recently, the town adopted the Tecumseh Road/Main Street Community Improvement Plan which affects the historical, commercial core. The downtown aspires to become an important focal point by providing commercial services, mixed-use (residential and commercial development) within a vibrant and walkable environment. It is offering a range of financial incentives to registered owners and tenants of land and buildings within the 1.2-kilometre corridor.

The mayor maintains that Tecumseh is one of Ontario’s best-kept secrets, although it is by no means a new community. It dates to 1792 when it was known as Ryegate Postal Station before being renamed in 1912 in honour of Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee Tribe who was killed in battle during the War of 1812.

1838 was a pivotal year in the community’s development and saw the creation of the Tecumseh Road and the Great Western Railway which opened up the area for settlement with the Town becoming an important railway depot and stopover for travellers.

In 1999, as part of a reorganization of Essex County, the Town of Tecumseh was created by amalgamating the former village of St. Clair Beach with Tecumseh and the former Township of Sandwich South. The Town of Tecumseh offers residents attractive neighbourhoods, a thriving business and commercial sector, a healthy agricultural community and many opportunities for recreational activities.

Due to its proximity to Windsor and Detroit it has all the amenities of larger centres, including cultural and professional sports events and opportunities for college and university education. Moreover, it has the warmest climate in all of Canada. “We’re the banana belt,” Mayor McNamara jokes, noting that Tecumseh is on the same latitude as northern California and is actually south of Detroit.

Situated in Essex County on a one-hundred-mile-long peninsula bordered by Lake Erie, the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, the town is in the heart of the richest consumer market in the world, with more than half of the North American population living within a day’s drive. With easy access to Highway 401, it is just four hours from the Greater Toronto Area with a population of six million and between eight and nine hours from Ottawa and Montreal.

It is also only a few kilometres away from the busiest Canada-U.S. land border crossing, where the daily total of goods traded between Ontario and the U.S. is valued at over $800 million. There is, in addition to the Windsor International Airport, the NAFTA Superhighway and five surface crossing points. From there, the U. S. market is open, with Chicago and Buffalo, NY only a four-and-a-half-hour-drive away, and Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia less than ten hours away.

However, with so much uncertainty surrounding the possible renegotiation of NAFTA, the free trade agreement signed in 1994, is the Mayor concerned? “I think that, at the end of the day, cooler heads will prevail,” he says, pointing out that NAFTA has benefited both the U.S. and Canada and that currently there is a real benefit to the U.S. to do business here because of the seventy-six cent dollar.

“We are so connected at the hip with the U.S., particularly with Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, so it’s not a simple matter of them saying ‘We’re going to do our own thing and you guys are out.’ We’ve been in business with U. S. multinationals for one hundred years, and the supply chain is concentrated here, including the technology, the innovation and the injection molds we’re supplying the big three auto manufacturers with. There’s no question some people are feeling panicky, but our industries are so integrated that it’s not going to be easy to undo. Let’s see what happens in two years.”

There are two significant employment areas within the town. The Oldcastle Business Park in the southern part of the Town contains over 350 industrial establishments, and the Sylvestre Business Park in the northerly area of Town has a mix of approximately forty industrial and commercial businesses.

Among the oldest sectors here is food processing which dates back to 1931 with the founding of Green Giant which took advantage of the fertile farmland and long growing season in Essex County. It is now owned by the France-based Bonduelle Company and processes canned and frozen food under several labels including Green Giant, Stokely’s, President’s Choice and Loblaw’s. It employs two hundred people full time, with twice that number during the peak season, and it supports over 450 family farms. The company struggles to find staff and is considering an option to develop residences on their property to house international workers.

“But people will be surprised by what we have here in terms of manufacturing as we’re the mold capital of Canada,” Mayor McNamara says, referring to the advanced manufacturing process of plastic injection molding which produces interior parts such as door panels, trunk lids, dashboards and light bezels for the automotive industry.

Companies in this sector have shown great resiliency, he notes, referring to “the experience we had in 2008-09 when the meltdown in the auto industry came. The industry was really hurting, and there was a hit on our manufacturing, but this is where their diversification came to light as there were other opportunities for them to branch off. Some companies had been one hundred percent dependent on the automotive industry, and now they’ve reduced that dependence to fifty or sixty percent as they’ve gone into manufacturing for aerospace, into the nuclear industry and bio-medical instrumentation. We’ve just relocated a company from Cleveland to start off operations here in Canada, and from their point of view, it was an easy transition as they found a diverse and adaptable workforce to meet their requirements in advanced manufacturing.”

It is an industry he says which goes back “fifty plus years, to International Tools, a mainstay in the industry, which, over the years, developed it to the point where they are doing work for Boeing and the aerospace industry.” Some of the heaviest presses required for the tool industry are also fabricated at the Oldcastle Business Park.

“But the beauty of this community, is that it’s not just for large businesses or young people,” says Lesley Racicot, the Town’s Manager Strategic Initiatives, who cites retirees who have moved here to start the small business they had always dreamed of. “We have a healthy mix of small businesses, medium sized businesses and bigger suppliers. There’s a place for everyone here and we welcome more.”

Not only does relocating to Tecumseh make good business sense, but it also makes for a good lifestyle choice; the Town is a five-time recipient of Gord Smith Healthy Workplace and Bike Friendly Workplace Awards given by the Windsor-Essex Health Unit.

There are several parks, including Lakewood Park directly on the waterfront, which offer opportunities for active living and access to nature and recreational activities for all ages. The majority of the Town is served by active transportation infrastructure, in the form of sidewalks, bike lanes or multipurpose trails. The Town recently approved the introduction of a three-kilometre multi-use pathway that will connect with two established trails, allowing users to walk, run or cycle across Essex County.

Meanwhile, Tecumseh’s transit system brings riders into the City of Windsor, providing an alternative to car use. Green energy is an important consideration for the Town and includes a partnership with Essex Power to implement solar panels where possible like those installed on the local arena. Last year, the Town converted its street lights to LED. The Town will continue to look at ways to further expand on green energy and reduction of their carbon footprint.

And then there is the fun. It is something that every community needs and that Tecumseh offers through a variety of activities. There is the annual CornFest now in its forty-first year and designated one of the top one hundred festivals in Ontario. There is also the Taste of Tecumseh, showcasing local wineries, breweries, food and music. Other events hosted by Tecumseh include summer concerts in Lakewood Park, an annual Santa Claus Parade and Christmas activities, children’s recreational activities, and open houses at the local emergency services facilities.

“We’re looking at diversifying our economy, not just with businesses, but with sports tourism,” Mayor McNamara says. “Sports tourism is now becoming the other pillar of economic development and we are looking at ways we can improve our existing facilities or add new opportunities in this area.”

The Windsor-Essex Region will host this years’ Memorial Cup of Hockey and was recently the site of the FINA World Swimming Championships. Tecumseh residents are able to volunteer and attend all of these events right in their backyard.

Thirty-five years ago the Mayor moved his family (his wife Heather and two young sons) from Cornwall, in eastern Ontario, to Tecumseh in search of better opportunities and they never looked back. He was involved with charities and service clubs from the beginning.

“We were lacking a recreational facility, and I started working toward that, and someone challenged me when I complained things weren’t moving as quickly as I thought they should and suggested that if I didn’t like the speed things were moving, I should get involved politically. So I did.” He has been involved ever since, having been elected Town counsellor in 1991, Deputy Mayor in 1998 and Mayor four times.

His sons, who grew up in Tecumseh and graduated from the University of Windsor and St. Clair College, are “living and working here and didn’t have to pack up and leave as so many young people in small towns do. It doesn’t get any better than this,” he reflects, recalling how distressed his mother was when he moved her grandsons away, although she understood he needed to go where there were opportunities. Now his own grandchildren are living nearby and loving the community, “and I feel blessed to have them so close. When people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them I’m living the dream. And I really am.”

September 25, 2017, 12:30 AM EDT

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