Go east, young grads

After a myriad of Atlantic Canada bashing stories, the National Post is actually running a positive one this morning. I can’t give you a link because it is ‘paid content’ but here are some excerpts:

“We’ve been led to believe everyone is leaving,” Mr. Van Poelgeest [Boston Pizza] says. “But that’s not the case.” According to the 2001 Census (the most recent stats available) Halifax, Fredericton and Moncton are growing, retaining, repatriating and attracting more people who are living quite well.

Perhaps one of the biggest success stories in the region is Fredericton, N.B., which has a population of 47,560. Growing since the late 1980s, the city has taken off in the past five years. Last year, housing starts were 40% above the record set the previous year, and the city is tracking ahead of that this year. There is one million sq. ft. of new retail space in construction, and the city’s high tech companies are looking for top talent.

Fredericton boasts more businesses per capita than any other city in Canada and is home to more than 70% of the province’s knowledge-based businesses making it a hotbed for innovation, particularly in the areas of engineering, computer science, software testing and e-learning. In 2003, the city launched the first free wireless network in North America— the Fred-eZone.

“There is this perception in the rest of Canada that somehow Fredericton is a locational disadvantage,” says Nancy Mathis, president and chief executive of Mathis Instruments. “That’s simply not true — and our U.S. clients certainly don’t think so.” Mrs. Mathis and her husband came to Fredericton in 1990 to complete their graduate work in engineering and ended up launching their company, which manufactures sensors used by pharmaceutical companies to profile what’s happening during the manufacture of specific pharmaceutical products.

A few points:

1) Fredericton, hands down, has been the most successful city in New Brunswick in the past 2-3 years at getting the media outside NB to talk about it – mainly pivoted around its eZone. This was the best few thousand dollars the city ever spent, in my opinion. I have tracked at least a dozen stories – national, regional and in trade pubs about that eZone.

2) Is the growth of Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax a sign things are ‘improving’ in the Maritimes or just a consolidation of economic activity? Because the overall Maritime population is dropping and because the whole region is growing more and more dependant on Equalization, I would suggest this is a short term consolidation of economic activity. APEC is pushing for ‘urbanization’ in Atlantic Canada but I think we need a more nuanced understanding of the issuse.