LONDON, ONT. -- The federal government has announced major funding to help expand London’s agri-food sector.

In a livestreamed media conference Thursday, London MPs Kate Young and Peter Fragiskatos were joined by local dignitaries in announcing $7.2 million in funding for the Western Fair Association through the FedDev Ontario program.

“We want to foster the potential of this sector to grow, and help more companies bring their products and services to market,” said Young.

Fragiskatos added that supporting agri-business contributes to London’s economic diversification.

“Investments like this, they matter not just from a diversification perspective. They matter because they do provide hope for a post-pandemic situation.”

The funding will go towards expanding growth at The Grove, an agri-food business hub based at the Western Fair District.

Currently there are seven tenants at the facility, according to Western Fair District CEO Reg Ash.

“Livefit Foods, and they’re currently producing ship-to-home meals. We’ve building out space for The Fritter Shop, which will be a production space. And we have Growing Chefs here, which is doing education. And we’re introducing ag-tech as well.”

London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) President and CEO Kapil Lakhotia said he expects the investment to help attract 20 to 25 companies to The Grove.

“With this Grove project, it gives us unique infrastructure, skills, capital and training resources to grow the next batch of food entrepreneurs.”

Young said the investment will create 550 skilled jobs and help maintain 50 existing jobs.

The LEDC says there are 100 agri-food businesses in the London region, employing 7,000 people.