The BIG picture

New Brunswick is poised for positive development and these organizations are already doing their part to advance the cause

Last year was a rough one for Canada’s economy, and New Brunswick was no exception — but according to RBC’s Provincial Outlook report (September 2015), the province is poised for improvement. It notes that there has been significant growth in wood, food, and mineral product exports. Employment in manufacturing is up 10 per cent and, thanks to the low Canadian dollar, it’s looking like a continued increase in exports will help maintain that growth.

The strength of New Brunswick’s exports isn’t news to the province’s businesses and organizations. When asked about the region’s export capabilities, Colleen Mitchell, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, points to the province’s energy infrastructure, which includes the Canaport LNG import terminal, the Irving Oil Refinery, the Brunswick Pipeline, NB Power’s 65 per cent non-emitting electrical production, and New Brunswick’s ability to export energy.

“Electricity, refined petroleum and natural gas have all been major energy exports,” says Mitchell. “The ability to export excess supply when production exceeds local demand helps generate additional revenue for regional energy producers.”

The largest exports for the Port of Belledune in the Bay of Chaleur are wood products, according to president and CEO Denis Caron.

“Wood pellets and woodchips are the top two,” says Caron. “Both of the wood pellet exporters have pellet plants in Northern New Brunswick, which contribute to the local economy.”

And Louis Godbout, executive director at Expansion Dieppe, is optimistic about the goods-producing sector.

“The transportation and logistics sector employs a great number of people in the region,” says Godbout. “Dieppe also benefits from a growing ICT sector that not only supports the transportation and logistics sector but also the value-added food sector. One of the rapidly growing industries within the ICT sector is the gaming and testing industry.”

Toss a strong transportation asset base into the mix, and you’ve got a province that’s poised for growth.

“New Brunswick has Atlantic Canada’s only major port with competitive rail options for shippers, and twinned highway road access to the United States located just 100 km from the gates of the marine terminals,” says Jim Quinn, president and chief executive office of Port Saint John.

The Port of Belledune in the Bay of Chaleur provides valuable export opportunities as well, acting as a gateway for shipping to the Arctic, Europe, and Asia.

This infrastructure doesn’t just support the province’s ability to export, it also provides an incentive for businesses to invest in the region, and according to Mitchell, the energy sector has plenty to offer.

“There are a number of energy opportunities that are in their infancy and potential investors are still able to get in on the ground floor,” she says. “Local companies have proven to be very good partners to other world-wide industry giants.”

Some parts of New Brunswick are seeing investment already. Dieppe, for example, boasts the second-highest population growth in Atlantic Canada with a population estimated at 26,000. To be fair, at least part of that growth is the result of a shift from the province’s more rural areas, but the area is also home to some of the most successful entrepreneurs and businesses not only in New Brunswick, but regionally and nationally. The area has also attracted a number of major retailers over the year, including the Bass Pro Shop, the 150 stores in CF Champlain mall, and car dealerships like Acura, BMW, Subaru, and Audi.

It makes sense — Dieppe has the Greater Moncton International Airport, and employers who choose to set up shop in the area benefit from the talent pool and the continuing education opportunities offered by post-secondary institutions like l’Université de Moncton and the New Brunswick Community College. But according to Godbout, Expansion Dieppe has also made some smart decisions that have made the region more attractive to investors.

“Expansion Dieppe maintains a strategic inventory of land available for development and offers current economic data to developers and others seeking to invest in Dieppe,” says Godbout. “It also provides support and advice by helping to ensure projects move ahead in a timely manner, and closely monitors and guides development in the Dieppe Industrial Park, downtown Dieppe, and the business and technology zone.”

Riverview is also growing quickly. Shane Thomson, the director of the Town of Riverview’s Department of Economic Development, attributes that to “the small-town feel with urban services and amenities that are attractive to a high-income, highly educated workforce.”

Thomson also notes that the region is consistently ranked by business management consultant KPMG as the lowest cost location for business among urban centres in Atlantic Canada and the New England states.

Of course, there are plenty of challenges. According to Quinn, Port Saint John has consistently grown since 2012 while at the same time being faced with the dilemma of aging infrastructure nearing its capacity. Recent funding commitments from the federal and provincial governments have led to the launch of a three-way partnership for a $205-million modernization plan of the container and general cargo handling terminals. This proactive measure will help them manage existing business and future growth.

Mitchell is also concerned about sustainability, but the Atlantica Centre for Energy is supporting a plan that should help significantly. That plan includes developing a diverse natural gas supply with a competitive end-user cost structure.

“The Maritimes are known for having a project-to-project economy,” she says. “A key challenge is to grow the economy so it becomes less reliant on major capital projects. By creating a sustainable energy sector, this region will be able to establish a supply chain to service our significant energy infrastructure.”

For the Port of Belledune, the biggest challenge is increasing awareness.

“We strive to put Belledune on the global map, to showcase its potential,” says Caron. “We achieve this by attending conferences and trade shows that are within the Port’s shipping routes, by sponsoring events, using social media, and by getting our name out there in a memorable way. The goal is for people to learn about the Port of Belledune, and remember it.”

But Riverview is tackling its challenges in a totally different way — by encouraging growth from within.

“We want to attract knowledgebased or location-neutral industries that don’t require proximity to major transportation infrastructure,” says Thomson. “We’re working on identifying and nurturing existing high-growth companies, and we aim to use our unique lifestyle opportunities to attract new talent and companies.”

According to New Brunswick’s 2015-2106 Economic Outlook report, exports are expected to improve overall, with gains in forestry exports to the US, a subsequent improvement in manufacturing, and increased mining activity in Caribou and Picadilly. If everyone continues to work together proactively, New Brunswick’s near future could be brighter than it’s been in years.

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