It’s not just Welland good, it’s Welland great
John Clark can’t remember a time when he’s beamed with as much civic pride.
A Welland resident for 30 years, the Toronto transplant has always loved his adopted hometown. But lately?
“I’ve been here 30 years and I’m about as bullish as I’ve ever been about Welland,” said Clark, owner of the popular MT Bellies Tap & Grill House in the city’s north end.
Here’s why: The once-beleaguered Welland, pummelled by the Great Recession of 2008, is on the rebound. It’s the classic phoenix rising from the ashes story thanks to a remarkable turnaround in the real estate market, new businesses opening, and even some established ones seeing the potential of la vie en Rose City. Many had thought Welland’s manufacturing sector was all but dead-and-buried, but then General Electric announced they were opening a new Brilliant plant, the first of its kind in Canada. The enormous facility – the largest industrial site in Welland – will bring in 150 jobs in Phase 1 alone.
Clark, who chairs the North Welland BIA and sits on the GNCC board, hears stories of bidding wars on homes and double-digit growth in property values. He’s helped welcome new car dealerships to the city. And he’s trumpeting the arrival of Bertie and Clinton Mutual Insurance Company, which outgrew its Thorold location, and is building multi-million-dollar office space in Welland. Those expansion plans are expected to make room for 25 more jobs in the next five years.
“We’re very happy to see this investment come to town. It’s about time,” he said. “Welland has been severely undervalued but people are catching on. They’re seeing what’s here and outsiders are catching on to the potential.”
That’s not all, though. There’s the Welland International Flatwater Centre, which has attracted world-class paddling competitions, including the 2015 Pan Am Games canoe and kayak events.
The city doesn’t yet have the capacity to house the number of athletes who take to the water for such big league competition, so they often stay elsewhere in the region. They may choose to eat or shop in Welland instead, but ultimately their presence benefits everyone in Niagara.
“The (flatwater centre) is part of the new direction and repertoire of what the city has to offer,” Clark said. “The region is the winner in all of this.”
So, too, is Welland, a city that’s also turning heads online with the catchy and clever #WellandGood hashtag. It’s a virtual update of Mayor Jon Richard Reuter’s campaign slogan from the late 1990s, ‘It’s all Welland good.’
It’s a little thing but it has spread positive vibes about a city that’s seen its share of negative events over the years, particularly with factories shuttering and staggering job losses.
However, many longtime businesses report that 2015 was their best yet with Clark among them. And Welland’s formidable sense of community is only getting stronger.
It’s also getting bigger. Retirees and working families are moving here, bringing with them plenty of opportunity for those with an enterprising streak while paving the way for a future that’s Welland great.
“Those people will rely on the services here. We can keep our young entrepreneurs here. There’s opportunity for them,” Clark said. “People are just feeling good about good ol’ Welland.”