In a $225 million investment, Feihe International Inc., a China-based manufacturer of infant formula, is opening a manufacturing facility in Kingston that is expected to create approximately 200 full-time jobs.
«We were very taken aback by the people of Kingston and by its government, that was a big part of the decision for us coming here; their warmth and love for their community. «¦ We’re excited to be a part of that,» Roger Hua Liu, vice-chairman and chief financial officer of Feihe International Inc., told the Whig-Standard via Judy Tu, who is vice-president of Feihe International Inc. and was acting as interpreter, following an announcement at City Hall on Thursday afternoon.
«For example, some of our colleagues have moved here. They were looking for places to stay and the kindness of some of the city people who took their own time on a weekend to help us, it made a deep impact on our impression of Kingston.»
The approximately 300,000-square-foot plant will be located in the Cataraqui Estates Business Park. It will be Canada’s first and only wet infant formula facility and North America’s first and only goat milk infant formula manufacturer. Approximately 20 per cent of the company’s products will stay in North America, with the rest going to Asia.
Four Feihe representatives have moved their families to Kingston in order to start the planning process. All of the remaining employees will be hired locally. The plan is to break ground next April as the design phase is almost complete. The plant is expected to be fully operational by early winter 2019. Construction of the plant, located on 40 acres across the street from Frulact, is estimated to create 1,000 job opportunities.
«This is one of the biggest economic development deals in our city’s history, easily the biggest in several decades,» Mayor Bryan Paterson said after the announcement. «The direct impact alone is enormous, but the indirect impact, how this company is going to build up an entire supply chain around it, I think it’s going to have a profound effect not only on the city, but the whole region.»
Feihe International met with the Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) in April and, since then, everything has moved very quickly.
«We’re very impressed with the Canadian dairy industry. I think that is well known in itself,» Tu said. «After speaking to the CDC, OMAFRA [Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs], Kingston, as well as other provinces — we hope to work with them, including Quebec, also — we very quickly decided, the board of directors, to move forward with this huge, over $225 million project.»
Donna Gillespie, interim CEO of the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, said they were approached by the OMAFRA in early summer, making the process a quick turn around.
«It’s been a long time and short time coming,» Gillespie said. «Often, opportunities like this can take years to come to fruition. … It’s been intense for a few months.»
Paterson said Kingston has a competitive advantage with agricultural food business. That has been proven with the arrival of Portuguese fruit processor Frulact Group in August 2015.
«This is putting Kingston on the map globally in a very important industry and I think there is a tremendous opportunities moving forward,» Paterson said.
Frulact, which is currently building its own facility, was in touch with Feihe to lend its experiences with Kingston. The Chinese Canadian Association of Kingston and District was also in touch with the company, Paterson said.
«The way that the [Chinese community] supported this project and the way that they really helped us understand Kingston, the people of Kingston, and the community of Kingston, was very, very important to us,» Liu said. «We travelled to many different places, including the U.S. and other parts of Canada, but it’s very different here. You could feel that here in Kingston. …
«The people in Kingston are very warm, very welcoming. You can feel that sense of pride for their city.»
The company’s proximity to Queen’s University, Royal Military College and St. Lawrence College was a selling point for Feihe. Feihe’s Nutrition Laboratory was founded in 2014 in co-operation with the Harvard University medical school’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston.
«In making infant formula, research and development is one of the key aspects of the process,» Liu said. «We anticipate working with local universities in that innovation as well.»
Feihe has been in the infant formula game since 1954, and with products such as AstroBaby, Super Feifan and Feifan boasts being one of the top brands in the Chinese market. It currently has seven manufacturing facilities: four in the Heilongjiang province of China, one in the Jilin province, one in the Shaanxi province and one in the U.S.
Paterson said that over lunch on Thursday they discussed the similarities between Kingston and Heilongjiang province. He said it was amazing to compare the number of things they have in common, including their mutual love for hockey.
«It’s very, very similar, in terms of the seasons, it’s very distinct seasons. It’s very agriculturally based with focus on innovation, technology and research and education,» Liu said. «But more importantly, China’s national hockey team is located in Qiqihar, Heilonjiang.»