IROQUOIS – An unprecedented expansion of a homegrown manufacturing company that will bring employment to South Dundas should be a no-brainer, but a land swap agreement with a neighbour has stalled the project.

Jeff Poapst, senior vice-president of manufacturing at Ross Video, the municipality’s largest employer, publicly unveiled plans for the addition of a 55,000 square foot building to their existing location Tues., Sept. 3.

The project, which is estimated to cost between $12-million and $15-million will almost double the size of the current business and create an additional 40 jobs.

“We’ve doubled in size every five years or so and have hit now 27 years of straight growth,” said Poapst.

The story of Ross Video is one driven by the patriarch, John Ross, and his son and current CEO, David.

The elder Ross began his company as a humble 4,000 square foot storefront operation in 1974.

That was where Ross Video stayed until a new 10,000 square foot facility was built on John Street in 1982.

Ross Video is at maximum capacity in its 65,000-square-foot space for its 225 employees. Schoch Photo

Further expansions in 1999, 2012 and 2013 have resulted in a total space of 65,000 square feet with 225 employees. In an attempt to maximize their space and efficiency, Ross Video has invested another $1.8-million this year to modernize the original building constructed in 1982, which will be in full operation in the next week.

The size of the company itself has also expanded exponentially with 14 acquisitions since 2009 increasing the total workforce to 787 employees world-wide. With 18 product lines, more than 2,000 shippable products and clients like the NFL, major broadcasters and Youtube, and even an Emmy at the front desk, Ross Video has been synonymous with success.

Not only has the local business thrived financially, it has also been a good citizen of the community. The Ross family have donated countless dollars to the Iroquois campground and airport, including the construction of the new building this fall, the local beach and Seaway District High School.

It would be simple to assume then that growth of this size and magnitude would be welcomed with open arms; there remains, however, one key stumbling block.

The proposed design would see the current footprint of the Ross Video building expand south over John Street and onto land currently owned by the village Legion.

“The challenge we have is to build it in that configuration we will need to do a land swap with Legion Branch 370,” explained Poapst.

This current design is optimal as it allows Ross Video to share the same logistics and systems, and consolidate their robotics assembly and testing. That would allow them to move out of the plaza location.

In preparation for their growth, the hi-tech company has purchased the former medical centre on Miller Street, a vacant lot adjacent to Iroquois Enterprises and the former municipal garage on Dundas Street, which will be torn down in October.

The hope was that the former garage site would be used as a paved parking lot for the Legion in exchange for the land required for the expansion. The swap would allow for the new Ross building, but would hinder the Legion from ever expanding on their northern side of their lot.

Poapst first presented the idea to Legion executives, which included the offer to pay for all legal counsel required by the Legion and any land transfer costs, in November of 2018 to gauge interest. It appeared that progress was being made until June of this year.

“I made a series of presentations to the executive and we got mostly to the same page to the point they were willing to take it to the membership. I did a presentation to the membership and they were lined up for a vote and then something changed. I wasn’t invited to that meeting. They didn’t have the full membership vote. Instead they tabled a motion create a sub-committee to study this further and have that sub-committee come back with a recommendation to the Legion. We have been negotiating with the chair of the sub-committee since that time,” said Poapst.

The chair, Terry O’Reilly, and the five person sub-committee ultimately hold the power in this situation and have stated that there are concerns that need to be addressed.

Although no objections were raised when Poapst made the presentations, members did raise some concerns before the vote and decided to form a sub-committee at that time, according to O’Reilly.

He pointed out that the committee and most of the membership is strongly in support of the expansion and recognize what it would mean to the community, but they want to ensure all potential concerns are addressed.

“We should be coming to the membership with something that we can strongly recommend ourselves… There should be no good valid reason this wouldn’t be approved,” said O’Reilly, adding that they want to “hurry up as best we can.”

Without a membership vote in favour of the land transfer, Ross Video will have to look for other options.

“If we couldn’t do this, we could build sort of to fit the land we own. That wouldn’t be as good and significantly more expensive,” said Poapst.

Another option is to build or lease in a different area, perhaps Ogdensburg, but that is hardly ideal for Ross Video, the village or the municipality.

Mayor Steven Byvelds and the rest of council were effusive in their support.

“This expansion is great news for South Dundas. It puts us up even further in the world of technology,” said Byvelds. “It will mean more opportunities for jobs, especially to young people who want to do hi-tech and stay at home. Also, having a business of this caliber may entice more to follow.”

When asked if a formal list of concerns have been presented, Poapst said he had not received one to date and that the dialogue has been casual.

“It’s been all verbal. [O’Reilly] doesn’t feel empowered to put anything in writing on behalf of the Legion because he’s just acting as the mediator here. So I’ll get a phone call or I’ll meet with [him]. He’s been great,” said Poapst. “The Legion didn’t ask for this. It’s status quo from their perspective. We need the space to expand.”

O’Reilly echoed that sentiment characterizing the negotiations as “top notch.”

One major concern that has been addressed was the proximity of the new building, which was moved back approximately eight metres to a distance of 24 metres, as well as the addition of a paved fire lane for Legion delivery truck access.

O’Reilly was also confident progress was being made saying “we’re pretty close to going to the membership with this” and pointed out that the committee is now waiting for the latest design and proposal from Poapst.

The unforeseen delay and lack of a resolution has set the project back four months and could have other implications.

“It has the risk of costing us next summer. There’s two new products coming out next fall and I’m not sure where I’m going to build them yet. So we’re going to lose a little bit of money the longer this goes on,” said Poapst.

Both sides remain hopeful a deal can be reached and they will break ground on the project in May 2020.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to get there, but it’s taking time,” said Poapst.