Statistics needed to track economic growth

As if the noticeable influx of new or returning residents isn’t obvious, comes more proof that there is growth taking place in this region.

On March 31 during the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual “State of the Strait Business Update,” the region’s business and community leaders heard from panellists about how they reshaped their business, forged ahead and planned for growth after a year of navigating COVID-19.

The transition to online course delivery and the recently announced Mabou Hill College project was highlighted by Rodney MacDonald, the president of the Gaelic College.

Speaking about their 112-megawatt wind farm development, Allan Eddy, director of business development for Port Hawkesbury Paper, said power is an integral part of their business, and they represent about 10 per cent of the power on Nova Scotia Power’s grid. He indicated the wind farm, which will be the largest in Nova Scotia, has potential to represent approximately 30 per cent of their need when running at full capacity.

During the building for growth panel, two municipal units showcased what they are doing to develop their respective towns. Tourism Development Coordinator for the Municipality of the County of Inverness, Amey Beaton, highlighted the dozen projects under the umbrella of the banding and signature spaces project.

Terry Doyle, the chief administrative officer for the Town of Port Hawkesbury, explained that during the past two terms, council’s focus has been on providing an environment for population and economic growth. This includes the creation of the Customs House, and the Marine Innovation Centre, both along the waterfront. Doyle also explained another establishment is in the permit process for an ice cream and specialty coffee shop along Granville Street.

During a virtual chat with the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce on April 9, Premier Iain Rankin reported population growth in all 18 counties in Nova Scotia.

To meet this new reality, Rankin said strategic investments are required, including: increased funding to long-term care; the creation of the mental health and addictions services department; improvements to income assistance; funding to post-secondary institutions; and the creation of the recently formed economic growth council.

When asked by The Reporter what the province is going to do to encourage and contribute to the growth in the Strait area, the premier suggested capitalizing on what’s already occurring organically, and lobbying for infrastructure such as high speed internet and active transportation networks.

In response to this growth, Port Hawkesbury Town Council voiced support for a plan to develop more housing.

During the regular monthly meeting on April 6, council unanimously backed a proposal from Town Councillor Jason Aucoin to rezone properties owned by the town to allow for mini or micro-homes.

Aucoin suggested there are a few portions of land that could be designated for smaller homes, and be potentially pre-sold. Aucoin said this would be a great way to open up housing opportunities in a town with a vacancy rate well below one per cent.

This could provide another option for seniors looking to downsize, as well as an opportunity for those living in mini-homes to buy their own property, Aucoin pointed out. Aucoin said there are a “few areas” he discussed with Chief Administrative Officer Terry Doyle.

Doyle told council they are looking at potential sites that are already zoned for this type of use. Because it is “early” in the project, he said this is a good time to look at their options.

Word of this growth must have also reached the ears of Danny Ellis, who is planning to open Portside Port Hawkesbury on the waterfront.

The Sydney operation is a waterfront pub featuring local beer, wine and spirits, as well as local seafood and live local entertainment. Ellis said the idea for that business arose as a way to develop the waterfront in Sydney, and he hopes to do the same for Port Hawkesbury.

Following the April 6 council meeting, Doyle said the new business will be located at the Station House Building. Doyle said the waterfront advisory committee was consulted, town residents were surveyed, and all indicated a food service venue on the waterfront was needed to attract people to that under-utilized part of town.

Ellis is hoping to start construction in June with an opening date targeted for July 1. He plans to “gut and rebuild” the interior to include modern washrooms, a modern kitchen area, and a bar. Once it’s up and running, Ellis hopes to hire 45-50 employees.

Because of public health restrictions still in place due to the global pandemic, Ellis said outdoor dining was popular last summer in Sydney even without cruise ships, and can be “huge” this year.

Portside Port Hawkesbury will offer live entertainment from local artists, Ellis noted. He said Portside will build their stage for a five-piece band, and they are in the process of purchasing their PA system. Great food, craft beer and local wines and spirits are also part of the business, according to Ellis, who said they plan on offering 20-24 different beers on tap, as well as wines “that no one else in the province has.”

It’s clear that things are happening in this region, but in the absence of any comprehensive demographic data, it is impossible to quantify this growth.

Without specific numbers, evidence comes in the forms of the businesses that have moved or opened, by the many people and families who have relocated, the plans being made by various levels of government to accommodate this growth, and the continually low COVID-19 case counts which are helping to fuel this trend.

These are facts that are well known by many people – not just residents of Inverness, Richmond, Guysborough, and Antigonish counties – and the secret is out across Canada, as witnessed by those moving to Atlantic Canada from Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, and those making plans for a similar change of residence.

Who can blame them; the daily case counts in those provinces have forced officials to enact or reintroduce strict public health measures, which make Nova Scotia’s daily case counts, and less strict rules, seem like an oasis in a global pandemic.

Because of the lack of numbers, it’s hard to discern whether the Strait area is reversing the negative economic trends of the past 30 years, or showing tangible economic growth.

At the moment, it appears there is growth taking place, but until more statistics are compiled, how much remains unknown.