The key to Greater Moncton’s success can be narrowed down to three critical pillars. “One is location,” says Denis Melanson, Interim CEO of Enterprise Greater Moncton. “Another is the labour force. And the other is our cost-effectiveness.”
Indeed, he says, “On the location side, we really are logistically wellcentered for any company that wants to increase its exposure to the Atlantic Canadian market. We have one of the fastest growing international airports in Canada, and we have the rail capabilities. We are also very close to the New England market.”
As for labour, he says, “We have one of the highest percentages of postsecondary grads in the county. About 59 per cent of our labour force has post secondary education, which is higher than the national average. Having access to qualified labour is very attractive for any business. Having a high percentage of bilingual workers is another plus.”
Then, there is the cost competitiveness. “KPMG continues to rank Greater Moncton as the number one place to do business in North America,” Melanson says. “And of course, there are other factors, including quality of life, a safe place to raise a family. This adds to the beautiful mix of the offering.”
For the droves of diverse, skilled professionals who have chosen Dieppe, Moncton, and Riverview to make their homes and places of work and enterprise in recent years, this “offering” has been irresistible.
Greater Moncton (population: 112,438) is the fifth-fastest growing Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in the country. In fact, the region has typically attracted at least three times as many people every year than any other area in New Brunswick.
Since 1990, the CMA has added more than 25,000 jobs to its workforce. The annual unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the Atlantic region and substantially below the national average. In Moncton (population: 70,000), home sales in 2011 reached the fourthhighest level in the city’s history. Yet, with an average house price of $158,561 key to Greater Moncton’s success can be narrowed down to three critical pillars. “One is location,” says Denis Melanson, Interim CEO of Enterprise Greater Moncton. “Another is the labour force. And the other is our cost-effectiveness.” The in 2011, the municipality remains one of the most affordable housing markets in the country. The total value of building permits issued in 2011 reached $184 million, the second highest level on record. Add to this, retail sales reached $2.1 billion in 2011, 17 per cent higher than the Canadian Cities’ average.
In less than 30 years, the City of Dieppe population (23,310) has more than quadrupled (up by more than 25 per cent since 2006, alone). Across the Petitcodiac River, the Town of Riverview has enjoyed a 20 per cent hike in its population (19,128) since 1986. Like Moncton, both of these communities display all the metrics of eminently livable, dynamic centres: A booming, yet still affordable, housing market, comparatively low unemployment rates, comparatively high participation rates, robust retail sectors and plentiful recreational and cultural amenities.
It’s no wonder, then, that Greater Moncton is becoming one of the Atlantic region’s true Meccas for skilled newcomers. If you are on the outside looking in, all of this might seem miraculous. After all, in the wake of the past decade’s global financial downturns and resulting recessions, Greater Moncton’s success is almost counterintuitive. Still, Greater Moncton has never just let things happen to it.
Consider, by way of example, a ceremony at Moncton City Hall last year when representatives from Google Canada were on hand to present the municipality with its Google eTown Award, the first community to receive the honour in Canada. The Google eTown Award is designed to recognize those towns where small businesses are investing in online tools and resources to find new customers, grow their business, and improve their operations. “We are, of course, extremely proud and honoured to be the first Atlantic Canadian community to be awarded with the Google eTown Award,” said Deputy Mayor Merrill Henderson in accepting the award. “We are a tech-savvy city, which thrives on new ideas. We enjoy being at the leading edge and strive to be innovative and creative in all that we do.”
In fact, Google looked at thousands of cities and towns across Canada to identify one town in each of five regions that demonstrated strong engagement and potential for growth in the digital economy. Some of the criteria were local businesses utilization of some of Google’s business products including, Google AdWords, the Canada Get Your Business Online initiative, and products such as Google Apps for Business. The Google eTown Award was the latest in a long list of honours the City of Moncton has received over the past few years, a testament to how the City and its businesses continue to succeed. “Our entrepreneurial spirit, and the growth of small and medium business in our city, is testament to the fact that Moncton has tapped into the digital economy, and the city’s knowledge-based sector continues to grow,” added Henderson. “That is why in 2009, the ICF recognized Moncton as one of the Top 7 Intelligent Cities in the world.”
Today, this bilingual community is a major Canadian customer contact and back office centre with a robust “nearshore” IT outsourcing industry. And it continues to leverage its success with a plan that calls for new partnerships with regional universities to deepen the region’s knowledge economy, diversify the IT economy, and actively promote tech-based entrepreneurship.
As for the future, Greater Moncton continues to refuse to rest on its laurels.
Riverview, while maintaining its reputation for residential opportunities, is undertaking a coordinated approach to promoting commercial development. Says Shane Thomson, the Town’s Director of Economic Development: “We have the urban context with the small-town feel. We have a largely residential community where a large portion of the region’s workforce lives. There are high levels of education, high levels of disposable income. There is an available workforce. And we think it’s time that companies start to recognize this. Additionally, we’ve had some recent investments in infrastructure, such as the bridge, and the Gunningsville Boulevard, which have unlocked opportunities for commercial growth. We have the development of a big box complex in Findlay Park on the retail side, with 50-plus acres of land yet to be developed adjacent to national chains.” Currently, Riverview boasts more than 500 acres of land to be developed; over 200 acres are zoned commercial.
Paul Lavoie, for one, is convinced. He owns and manages MPL Homebuilders in Riverview. “There’s no question that it is a very good and growing place. We own land there, right on the new Gunningsville Boulevard. Our land is a prime area for residential development. We have approximately 200 acres, 90 of which is zoned commercial….The Greater Moncton area is still flourishing. We’re building homes on spec and they are selling. The outlook is very good for Riverview.”
In Dieppe, where the pace of residential and commercial development has been stunning, the community remains in an expansionary mode. Says Pierre Dupuis, the General Manager of the City’s Economic Development Corporation: “For us, it’s all about (capitalizing) on the growth that has occurred in the past 10 years. Certainly, it’s the demographic growth, but it’s also on the commercial and industrial side. So, where we’ve seen our industrial park get fuller – the old Dieppe industrial park achieving maturity and being completely full – this has led to new expansions of the industrial park north and east of the Greater Moncton International Airport. Our focuses include air transport and related businesses and the development of a business and technology park. Dieppe has also invested in the development of a vibrant downtown core, focused on bringing higher density developments and a stronger residential/ commercial mix, where people can live, work and play.”.
Terry Malley, who owns and operates Malley Industries puts it this way: “We’ve been in Dieppe since 2003. The motivator for moving here… we needed a building of a certain size and that’s what we found in Dieppe. The experience we’ve had as far as dealing with the City of Dieppe, as far as requirements for business – permits, getting things done, working with the city to achieve the goals we wanted – has been super. They are thinking ahead. They are being proactive instead of reactive.”
For Moncton, the preeminent focus for the foreseeable future is on building a downtown, multifunctional sport and entertainment facility. A long-time dream for successive city councils, the project is moving closer to fruition. “There has been some really strong headway with council’s recent decision to acquire the Highfield Square site and to begin to prepare a request for proposals, which is scheduled to be released in November 2013,” says Kevin Silliker, Moncton’s Director of Economic Development. “Downtown development is on an upward swing again, and I think it’s because of the attention to detail. If you take a look at even the on street parking program that was implemented some time ago… Technically, it’s in a trial, but I would be quite shocked if it was something we didn’t continue with because it has been so successful to date and warmly received.”
So, too, will a downtown centre, according to straw polls of many urban dwellers. The reasons are abundant. Jacques Dubé, Moncton’s City Manager, said in a recent presentation to Council, “A new downtown centre is much, much more than a replacement for the aging Coliseum. It is really about developing our downtown – and what a downtown centre would do for our downtown. While Moncton’s reputation as the sports and entertainment hub of the Maritimes is solid, the stakes are even higher now.”
Specifically, he said, “A new downtown centre would kickstart and increase the demand for more shopping and entertainment, downtown bars and restaurants as the demand for the ‘enhanced experience’ increases. It’s really all about creating a vibrant, dynamic downtown that is the heart and soul of our community/region.”
Indeed, according to an economic impact study, a new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people… generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”
Meanwhile, another recent report estimates that the construction phase alone would generate $340 million worth of “economic impacts” for New Brunswick and other parts of the country, as well as nearly $17 million in taxes for the provincial and federal governments. Moreover, it indicates, sales from ongoing operations could easily reach $9.5 million in 2015 (assuming, of course, the centre is open for business by then).
The important point, the first study argues rigorously and cogently, is that a new centre is not a luxury; it is quite nearly a necessity. “Downtown – only 1.5 per cent of the city’s land area – generates nearly 10 per cent of the total assessed tax base and over 14.4 per cent of property tax revenues,” the report noted. In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.” What’s more, “the cost to service the downtown is much lower compared to many other neighbourhoods and commercial areas in the city.”
Given that the downtown plays host to hundreds of businesses, bars, restaurants and cafes, 18,000 workers, and thousands of residents (depending on how one fixes downtown “borders”) – the importance of a centre to anchor such activity is not insignificant.
In these and many other ways, the communities of Greater Moncton are embracing their futures with the attributes that matter most. “Our economic diversity has also been a strength,” Melanson says. “The pendulum swings here are a lot less severe. The entrepreneurial spirit that the community has is important. This really fuels our economy.”