Actlabs founder keeps HQ close to home and family
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
Eric Hoffman has gone global in a big way since founding Actlabs as a one-man operation 27 years ago.
With 30 laboratories in 14 countries on all five continents, his company now has more than 1,000 employees, providing testing in a wide range of fields, including for the mining, food, petroleum and pharmaceutical industries.
But the Dundas resident says his heart remains close to home, which is one of the reasons he chose Ancaster’s industrial park for Actlabs’ new 200,000-square-foot world headquarters.
Actlabs is also now a family affair, with sons Michael and Rob and daughter Ariella joining their dad’s bustling enterprise, which has 13 labs in Canada, seven of them in Ontario.
Hoffman, who has a PhD in geochemistry, said the Ancaster location’s selling points include its easy access and proximity to McMaster University’s nuclear reactor, used for some of Actlabs’ testing.
The Bittern Street headquarters consolidate five previous labs in the industrial park and employ more than 200 people, a number expected to grow to nearly 300, he said following yesterday’s grand opening.
“It’s been a nice progression,” Hoffman said. “We like living in the Hamilton area. It provides a good place for our employees to live. They don’t have to worry about rush-hour traffic. Typically, it’s a picturesque part of Ontario,” he said.
“It only made sense to locate here. And I hate traffic.”
While Actlabs initially focused on mineral-exploration testing, it’s continued to expand the range of services, moving into agriculture about two years ago.
Hoffman said customers now include farmers hoping to improve yields and keep toxins out of their livestock feed, and beekeepers trying to figure out why their bees are dying off.
He said Actlabs has grown by identifying and commercializing new technologies to keep ahead of other labs.
“We’ve gone from analyzing soils in farmers fields to a lot of the more high-tech solutions,” Hoffman said, citing the dying bees as an example.
“We’re working with both the beekeeper and the manufacturers of the pesticides to identify reasons why the bees would be dying off, whether it’s pesticide-related or virus-related.”
Joining Hoffman and his family for a ribbon cutting ceremony were MP David Sweet, MPP Ted McMeekin, Mayor Bob Bratina and Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, all of whom were effusive in their praise of Actlabs.
Bratina said the company reflects the diversity of Hamilton’s economy, one that has given the city the lowest unemployment rate, at 5.8 per cent, of any major Ontario municipality and among the highest median incomes across Canada.
“We are not a basket case. We are a growing, thriving community and we are diverse, so we’re encompassing all of the opportunities that our young people need at whatever level they want,” he said.
“Hamilton is really the poster child for a city that’s on its way up at every measurable level.”
Ferguson said he’s thrilled Actlabs chose Ancaster for the headquarters and the city is doing its part by providing hourly bus service to the industrial park on evenings and weekends beginning in July.
He said the city also plans to extend Osprey Drive to Trinity Road, giving companies and emergency services a second park entrance should there be another major fire like the August 2009 blaze that destroyed a cabinet-making business.