Prefer Sudbury to Kelowna

Interesting comparison between Saint John and Kelowna in today’s TJ. These kinds of comparisons are necessary but tricky. Kelowna has a pulp mill (like Saint John) but beyond that the comparison stops. Kelowna has been a top destination for affluent retirees – and that has driven the majority of its growth in recent years. That’s a key difference. Attracting retirees can be a potentially viable anchor for a community’s economic development strategy – if they are mostly millionaires (or at least above average affluents).

I have read a number of stories on this and the jury is still out on the economic development benefits of becoming of a ‘retirement community’. For the most part, a retiree’s wealth is not ‘invested’ in the retirement community. It is mostly invested in Toronto, India and China. So you have to look at the costs of the retiree against the benefits.

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy that some retirees are urbanizing. But, like retail and tourism, I wouldn’t anchor my economic development strategy on retirees – unless you are in the specific situation of Kelowna with its affluent attractees.

Saint John needs to look to other cities for its potential. Although it continues to face an uphill battle, I like what Sudbury, Ontario has done. For one, it went through an amalgamation in 2001 – which may make sense for Saint John (I’ll get hate mail for that). When you have rapidly increasing suburbia (wealth and population) drawing heavily on the urban core (Saint John) which is stagnant or declining, it can lead to a bad outcome where you are expanding your house while the foundation rots.

Secondly, it is slowly building a new economy. I know that Sudbury is really a better parallel to Miramichi in the New Brunswick context but I like what they have done for Saint John. Look at the medical school and the expansion of the university. Look at the attraction of new economy industries. All at the same time as making efforts to gird up its mining sector which has been the community’s foundation.

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