Tag Archives: Metro Moncton

Moncton resurgo redux

When a community can afford to announce well in advance that it’s about to make a major jobs announcement, then something must be going splendidly well in the local economy.

So it was last week when news of BMM Testlabs’ employment initiative for the Moncton area somehow just slipped out. The official unveiling won’t occur until this Thursday at the Capitol Theatre. Still social media continues to buzz with anticipation.

Moncton Councillor Dawn Arnold officially made the initiative the worst kept secret in the city when she posted to Facebook last week, “There will be the largest job creation announcement that has ever been made in the Greater Moncton are. The event will be streamed ‘live’ to generate international media coverage and visibility, as this announcement will have very positive ripple effects around the world. Most of these new jobs are high-end positions that will be filled by people coming from outside the region.”

Her post garnered 31 mostly positive comments by last Friday, including this one: “Anything that brings high salaried people here will create more jobs in every other sector. Can’t wait to hear what it is.”

And this one: “High end jobs in Moncton means more spending here in the city, from clothing to gym memberships to restaurant customers, furniture to cars and houses and so on. Even if the ‘spenders’ are coming from away, it can generate spin-offs for the people who do live here.”

Naturally, some will complain about the “come-from-away” aspect of this development, but that would miss the point. Whatever jobs are created here will, de facto, employ local people – newcomers, for sure – but now local, all the same. The economic impact would be just as significant as if existing residents were landing the positions.

And, while I don’t want to spoil the surprise, my sources tell me the impact will be significant, indeed.

As Brunswick News reported last week, the Las Vegas-headquartered BMM – a private gaming certification lab – is making the third announcement of this type this week in as many years. “In August 2013, the company expanded from three to 27 employees in the province, then in February 2014 it announced it would create up to 173 full-time positions over four years at its office in Dieppe.”

Certainly, Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the economic development agency for the tri-city area, couldn’t be happier. “The last 25 years we’ve continued to brand greater Moncton as the hub of the Maritimes,” he told this newspaper. “The next 25 years we want to brand Greater Moncton the hub between North America and the European Union.”

These are bold words, indeed. But do they conjure a picture that is actually beyond the realm of possibility?

Consider how far this community has come over the decades – from down on its heels to the top of the municipal, economic food chain in New Brunswick. It is, and has been for a while, the fastest-growing urban area in the province. It has become a virtual centre of excellence for IT and software development. Its bilingual and highly skilled and educated workforce have been a certain draw for businesses from around the continent.

The reason is, quite frankly, that community and business leaders here understand what it takes to create the momentum to change the status quo from stagnation to growth.

To be sure, Metro Moncton is not the only city in the Maritimes that knows how to do this. But, it’s probably the only one that does this before breakfast, during lunch and after supper.

The results speak splendidly for themselves.

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How to take ‘yes’ for an answer in politics

 

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Metro Moncton richly deserves its pride of place as one North America’s most attractive municipalities for businesses. In fact, according to a new KPMG report, pound-for pound, the Hub City may be the most free-enterprising on the continent.

As the 2014 Competitive Alternatives report states, “The cost leaders in the New England/Atlantic Canada region are the Atlantic Canada cities of Moncton,

Charlottetown, and Fredericton, all with costs nine percent or more below the US baseline. Costs are somewhat higher in Halifax, St. John’s and Bangor, while Manchester (New Hampshire) and Burlington (Vermont) have the highest 

business costs among the smaller cities in this region.”

Of course, money isn’t everything. Foresight also counts for a lot in the fortunes of any community. That’s why the long-running ‘will-we-won’t-we-push-me-pull-you’ saga of a rumored, though not actually realized, downtown centre has been such a frustrating anomaly in the city’s urban oeuvre – a rare instance in which Moncton has sacrificed its youthful swagger for a geriatric shuffle.

In fact, an unmistakable fustiness permeates the Request for Proposal (RFP) that City Hall has sent to prospective builders, as if councillors and staff are tripping over their own feet in their effort not to get ahead of themselves lest they (gasp!) actually hit the ground running on this thing.

The real problem has always been, and remains, existential. What do we – and those we elect – actually want a downtown centre to do? Opinions clearly vary and to the extent that they do, the actual character of the urban core hovers just out of view, beyond our grasp. 

Shall we embrace, as the RFP stipulates, the “Moncton Multi-Use Sport and Entertainment Facility” or the “Moncton Downtown Centre” or, simply, “Downtown Centre”? What does “Multi-Use” mean?

We know one thing: It means being flexible enough to accommodate two sports teams, which might not otherwise prosper here 

“The Downtown Centre will be the home of the Moncton Wildcats, and the Moncton Miracles,” the RFP says. “The Moncton Wildcats. . .will be a major tenant at the Downtown Centre. All of the Moncton Wildcats’ hockey and business operations will be located in the Downtown Centre, and the Moncton Wildcats will play approximately

thirty-four (34) home games per season, as well as any playoff games at the Downtown Centre. . .The Moncton Miracles basketball league franchise is a charter member of the 

National Basketball League of Canada (Atlantic Division), and plays twenty (20) 

regular home games per season.”

But, in calling for a mere 7,500-seat capacity (hardly better than city’s 40-year-old coliseum, whose fate as a refurbished trade centre and show location is linked to the downtown centre’s progress), officials are inadvertently raising uncomfortable questions about the broader utility of such a facility, particularly as an entertainment mooring for the downtown.

Still, the RFP insists, “The Moncton Downtown Centre development project is a major local project which has been part the City’s development and planning vision for many years. This Project has a high degree of visibility, as the Downtown Centre will be one of the most important new buildings located in the City, and the Province, for many years to come.”

Really? How so? 

“The Downtown Centre must encourage downtown residential development: 

The City envisions the Downtown Centre as a catalyst for downtown development, giving more people a reason to live downtown,” the RFP continues. “Specifically, the 

City is seeking design proposals that facilitate the City’s objective of resulting 

in more people living downtown, higher density forms of development, and a 

variety of housing options, including a mix of unit types and tenures (i.e. rental 

vs. ownership).”

City officials are not wrong to appreciate the catalytic effects of architecture and design on housing, retail and hospitality development in the downtown. But to properly re-imagine a busy, densely populated, and diverse urban core, we must articulate a fuller cultural agenda, and in greater detail, than we have for its new anchoring edifice.

Bold, aggressive strategies with no guarantee of success are what made Moncton one of the world’s recognized “smart cities” at a competition in New York a few years ago. That this city boasts the international airport it does owes everything to its habit of making a productive nuisance of itself at all levels of government.

Nothing less is called for today, and there’s no reason to start taking ‘no’ for an answer to the questions the future poses. 

 

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