More economic good news

On the heels of Highland Grow Inc. being approved by Health Canada to start producing cannabis in Antigonish County, and a glowing economic impact study from Port Hawkesbury Paper, comes more good news.

On January 8, First Nation, federal, provincial, and municipal officials opened the Highway 104 Paqtnkek Interchange Project. The project will provide safe access and create economic opportunities for the Paqtnkek First Nation. Exit 36-B, a new interchange on Highway 104, was constructed to allow access to the southern roads of the community for the first time since the highway was constructed in the 1960s.

The new diamond-shaped interchange includes new north and south connector roads and a highway underpass. It is a $15.3 million project with an $8.9 million contribution from the province and $6.4 million from the federal government’s Building Canada Fund – Major Infrastructure Component.

It was announced in November that Wilsons Fuels and Calgary-based Husky will team up to supply an Esso-branded outlet in the community’s new $8 million showcase development, the Bayside Travel Centre. The travel centre, which is now under construction and expected to open in the summer of 2019, will cater to professional drivers working the northeast corridor, offer 24-hour retail fuel, an electric charging station and a Band-owned and operated convenience store.

The development will also bring a much-needed amenity to the area as it earmarks two quick service restaurants, each with a drive-thru around an atrium that will feature a 50-seat public seating area with comfortable chairs and group seating, free WiFi, a bank machine, and public washrooms.

Then during the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on January 8, it was unveiled that a consultant conducting a hotel feasibility study on behalf of a national chain visited Port Hawkesbury on December 17.

To help ensure the consultant understood the extent of the demand in the area, the town painted a picture of Port Hawkesbury as a regional hub for industry, education, recreation, culture, tourism, and the professional and public sectors. Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said many in the room provided updates on their industries, facilities, and organizations, and discussed growth and opportunities, all supporting the need for an additional hotel or two.

CAO Terry Doyle pointed out that Port Hawkesbury could act as a destination where tourists start and finish their trips to Cape Breton.

Town officials said Port Hawkesbury is not able to host larger conferences and events because of the lack of accommodations, and infrastructure like the Civic Centre is not realizing its potential as a result.

Chisholm-Beaton said the proposed location would be the former Canso Regional Vocational School site on the soon-to-be renovated Reeves Street, next to the Civic Centre. The study is expected to be completed by mid-February.

At this same meeting, Port Hawkesbury’s finance director, Erin MacEachen, reported a 1.43 per cent increase in residential assessment and a 1.25 per cent increase in commercial assessment, equating to a total of $64,000 of new revenue.

MacEachen said that although commercial assessments have increased, this is significantly due to the investment in two existing businesses in town, which made significant investments in their properties, along with the addition of a new business through the Start-Up Port Hawkesbury program.

Although still not Silicon Valley, Isle Madame is home to a growing tech company. Synclavier Digital Corporation is currently participating in the National Association of Music Merchants Media Preview Day in Anaheim, California.

The company was founded by Cameron Jones in D’Escousse in August of 2018 with the intent of creating a new line of Synclavier musical instruments. As part of the convention, Synclavier Digital is introducing three new products – two new iOS apps plus an authentic re-creation of the Synclavier Knob.

Armed with 150 pre-orders, Jones is very optimistic the products “will fly” because they appeal to many musicians and tastes.

Entrepreneur and engineer Craig Phillips of SoftwareGuru.ca in Louisdale participated in the product development and Chris O’Brien of Cape Breton Computer in St. Peter’s helped with customer service and tech support. Components for the Synclavier Knob are manufactured by Target Hydraulics & Machine Works Ltd. in Sydney.

Jones has a track record of successful product introductions. His Synclavier I, introduced at the Audio Engineering Society Annual Convention in May, 1978 met with critical acclaim. The Synclavier II, introduced at the same convention in 1980, met with immediate success and helped usher in the digital musical instrument revolution of the following decade.

The company also said its flagship new product, Synclavier Go!, has been accepted by Apple for distribution in its App Store and is scheduled to be released for sale on that platform.

On the other side of Isle Madame, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency confirmed $700,944 in funding for an ambitious and unique revitalization project for Arichat’s main street on January 17.

Last July, Richmond Municipal Council formally committed $2 million towards the project for new sidewalks, a fresh streetscape and a façade improvement program for local businesses.

Enhancements will include new sidewalks, street lighting, benches, recyclable units, bicycle racks, green spaces, trees, rest areas with proper lighting, flower pots, way-finding signage, and excellent viewpoints of the ocean.

The project will encompass 0.74 kilometres of new sidewalk extending from the north side of Highway 206, from Bay Lane to Highland Street, along with extensive new streetscaping and business façade improvements. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.

What makes the project unique is that Isle Madame’s business community, along with the municipality and ACOA, is a funding partner in a project with the potential to positively change the community.

Along with the good news which arrived at year’s end and expected developments in other projects earmarked for the Strait area this year, these developments are proof the local economy has turned a corner.

If this first month is any indication, it will be an exciting year.