LONDON, ONT. -- A deal has been finalized to develop the site of the former Maple Leaf food processing plant in Thamesford, "converting what would have otherwise been an industrial, smashed windows wasteland with weeds growing up out of the pavement into a potential new heart of the village," said Zorra Township mayor, Marcus Ryan.

Shovels begin hitting the ground in 2021 for what will be a new 800 home subdivision.

The deal addresses both a housing need as well as a need to shore up the local workforce, said Ryan.

"We have businesses in the village right now that are really well loved, locally owned and operated but are starved for staff. A lot of people who work in the restaurant industry for example are not looking to buy a 600-thousand dollar home right now. Maybe one day. But for now they need an apartment, and those businesses also need customers."

It’s a problem the owner of Bruny’s Bar and Grill understands well. Taylor Borth said one of the big challenges of owning a small business in village has been finding staff.

"We had to close briefly at the beginning of September just due to short staff. But we’re back open now and fully staffed and... It can be hard in a small town for sure. It’s a part-time job for a lot of people."

The first phase of the deal with Kingwood Homes includes two processing plants and a two acre parcel of land. There’s also an agreement for Kingwood to purchase the remaining 112 acres over two more phases, closing in mid-2022. The total sale is $7 million.

And development to support existing businesses can’t come soon enough, according to Allan Simm, Community Futures Oxford, a small business centre.

"More housing development- that’s great for small business. There’s a push right now to support small businesses, especially right now during COVID, and that we support our downtowns."

About 800 homes in all will be built, including town homes and single family homes, as well as apartments and condos. Nine-thousand square metres of commercial space is also planned.