Factories redeveloped by shipping firms HCL Logistics and Drexel Industries

By Norman de Bono

This article originally appeared on lfpress.com on July 9, 2017

They represent two of the darkest moments in London’s industrial history, and today each has a new lease on life.

New businesses have sprung up in the former sites of Electro-Motive Diesel and Kellogg Canada, two London manufacturing icons employing more than 1,000 workers between them that were shut down by U.S. parent firms.

“It’s been great to be part of the redevelopment of this site. It has a new life, a fresh look,” said Tim Van Holst, president and owner of HCL Logistics, who has opened a business in the former EMD plant, as it was known.

HCL has 150 full-time employees in the plant on Oxford Street. Its shutdown in 2012 after a bitter labour dispute became a national news story with some politicians and union leaders saying it was an example of the impact of corporate greed on a city and its workers.

Closer to downtown, Drexel Industries, also a warehousing, logistics and shipping operation, is taking up a small part in the former massive Kellogg plant. The cereal giant closed its doors in 2014 after more than 100 years, a victim of changing breakfast appetites.

“I believe in revitalizing older buildings,” said Jason Salmon, Drexel president.

“This is an ideal space. We have 17 dock-level doors (for trucks) with a levelling system, 209-foot ceilings. It’s a nice warehouse setup.”

HCL in the former EMD operation is a warehouse shipping and receiving business that has next-door neighbour General Dynamics Land Systems Canada as its primary customer.

“This is a great facility. We had two operations and we merged them into one and this presents a real opportunity for us,” said Van Holst, who operates the business with partner Franco Barbon. “We’re next door to a major defence supplier, that’s beneficial to us as they’re a major customer.”

The 500,000-square-foot site at 2021 Oxford Street has both CN and CP rail lines running into what was a locomotive manufacturer, and that offers a great opportunity for shipping goods and expanding HCL’s market, Van Holst said.

“Access to both major rail lines was a huge benefit for us, we see this is a big part of our future, a big opportunity,” he said. “We are looking at growth focused on rail.”

HCL deals largely with manufacturing clients in the defence sector, receiving parts and supplies and shipping them to manufacturers for use in assembly. At GDLS that would be for making armoured vehicles.

“We get the parts so they can do the job they need to do,” Van Holst said. “We ship around the world.”

“Our focus is growing rail opportunities. We think we can grow our business significantly.”

HCL was located at two sites on Robins Hill Road and Scanlan Street before merging into the former EMD site.

“To have all our staff under one roof, we can streamline the operation and maximize the space here,” Van Holst said.

Drexel has a more retail-oriented focus.

For customers who order from Best Buy, Costco, Walmart or Toys R Us, the purchase is shipped to the Drexel plant before it is trucked by courier to their home.

The company has 17 staff working at the 250,000-square-foot plant and it is hiring more.

“We are a niche in the commercial distribution world. We have products here sold through national retailers. We ship all across Canada,” said Salmon, who founded the London business.

“I’ve been in business five years and I literally started in my garage. I taught myself as I went.”

The company’s growth has been steady, with warehouses of 8,000, 30,000 and 50,000 square feet now giving way to the operation on Kellogg Lane.

Given that clip, it’s easy to believe the e-commerce sector is growing at a 20 per cent clip annually, Salmon said.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on software development.”

Kapil Lakhotia, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp., believes the openings are another sign of a solid Southwestern Ontario area economy.

“It is another sign of positive economic conditions here.”


Electro-Motive Diesel

  • Locomotive maker opened in 1952.
  • Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., bought plant in 2010.
  • More than 600 workers lost their jobs when plant closed in 2012 after a bitter labour dispute.
  • McLaughlin Brothers and J-AAR Excavating bought site in 2015.

Kellogg Canada

  • Cereal maker opened in London in 1907, closed in December 2014; 467 workers lost their jobs when it closed.
  • Buildings sold for $4 million to BayShore Groups in June 2015.