Welcomed with open arms by the local municipality, logistics and warehousing firm Wills Transfer Ltd. recently opened its new $25 million, 155,000 square foot facility in Ingleside, ON, ushering in a new era of expansion for the nearly 70-year-old company.
At its official opening on May 2, besides local media and neighbours, company co-owner Terry Wills, wife Heather and son Jordi, who has stepped up to take on a leadership role within the organization invited more than 200 representatives of government, vendors, fellow trucking, and logistics companies as well as current and prospective customers.
The show of support was a bold statement as to the importance of partnerships and the interconnected and co-operative nature of business in the 21st century in Eastern Ontario.
“It was a good turnout. We couldn’t have been happier. And I think we have a really good building. It’s a high value product that was delivered on time and delivered on budget, which is not only to the credit of our staff, but also to the contractors and tradespeople as well as to the staff of the local municipality and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry,” said Willis recently.
“And I’ve got to say, that the village of Ingleside, the Township [South Stormont] and the county staff couldn’t have done more for us. They have been just so helpful at every step of the way. It was actually a delight to deal with that whole group. Tara Kirkpatrick [Manager, Economic Development for SDG Counties] went above and beyond. She organized a promotional video shoot of the building and put it up on their website and their social media – all at their expense. We were also given some leads on possible tax credits from them. On top of all that, they were also very helpful throughout the whole process of the opening, so we were very blessed.”
Already featuring facilities in east end Ottawa, Brockville, Cornwall and Perth, the brand new, ultra-modern Ingleside building is located in what is becoming a rapidly expansive hub for the logistics industry in Eastern Ontario. Wills pointed out that this, plus the fact that the property was both fully serviced and located very close to both Highway 401 and the U.S. border, made it highly desirable. It is also directly across the street from one of Wills Transfer’s biggest and most long-standing clients, Lactalis Canada.
“When you look along that Seaway Valley area, as you get closer to Cornwall, it’s turning into an important hub for logistics. Walmart is there with a three million square foot warehouse. The Loblaw group closed their facilities in Ottawa and Montreal and moved their whole logistics operation to Cornwall. Shopper’s Drug Mart has moved their Ontario distribution centre there. The trucking sector is also very well represented there to support the logistics and warehousing industry,” he explained.
“It’s a very good spot to be: along the 401, close to the border, kind of midway between Toronto and Montreal and not far from Ottawa – but without the cost of land in those places. Especially in the GTA, the cost of land is really starting to shove distribution sites right out of the area.”
Wills said the company had been eyeing property in the Cornwall area for about four years, for the reasons cited above. After an initial foray close to Cornwall proper didn’t pan out, the site at Ingleside was acquired and developed. In all there is 60 acres of land, with only 10 of that used to build the current structure. This means there is lots of room for growth.
And growth is very much on Wills’ mind, as this is not the only significant acquisition and build on the agenda.
“In late 2022 we also bought about 10 acres of land on the Carp Road just outside the airport because we wanted to have a property in the west end of Ottawa to compliment the one we currently have in the east end on Swansea,” he said.
“And with the Ingleside property the next phase is going to be a cold storage site, which will give us some capabilities of serving the food industry. We can actually expand that property six-fold, so it’s got us well situated for a number of years.”
Lactalis officials were ebullient in their praise for Willis and having their logistics partner close at hand.
“The warehouse’s proximity will provide enhanced flexibility and improved agility in the supply chain and also help reduce our environmental footprint by eliminating the close to one-hour transportation route [we currently use] to Brockville,” said Adam Harrison, Lactalis Canada’s manager of logistics and planning in a news item from the Ottawa Business Journal.
Part of the reason for the forward-thinking approach to the growth of Wills Transfer and the logistics industry as a whole is that there is still a positive holdover from the lengthy COVID-19 pandemic in terms of a booming shipping market.
“Logistics exploded during COVID because of the prevalence and growth of e-commerce, which eats up any warehouse space like crazy. It really strained capacity throughout the whole supply chain, which was good for our business because we were full all the time with customers, each of whom were wonderful to work with. We helped them build solutions during that time, so from a business standpoint it was an interesting and fun challenge to go through because the volume and demand was so high. I think, as a company, we came through it stronger than we went into it,” said Wills.
“And since things have kind of got back to normal business has dropped off to some extent but not entirely. Volume is still good, and even though it’s not the same as it was in 2020, it’s still fairly brisk and it’s looking like 2023 is going to be another good year.
Terry and Heather are the third generation of Wills to run Wills Transfer. Son Jordi, alongside his wife Heidi, has been heavily involved in the company for the past decade and right now is transitioning to a leadership position, making it the fourth generation of the same family to own and operate the business.
“Heather and I have run the business since 1979. My son Jordi and his wife, Heidi, they are the next generation. This year and next are going to be sort of transition years. Jordi is excited to be taking the lead and helping move things forward and I am excited to help him with that transition,” Wills said.
“I love my career so much, so I will still be here behind the scenes to help Jordi for a while.”
For more information, visit www.willstransfer.com.
To watch a video highlighting their new Ingleside facility, visit https://youtu.be/FTyEHfcPWW8
Story by Jim Barber