Thursday, September 20, 2018Canada's Leading Online Business Magazine

City of Fredericton

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Where modernity meets old-world charm

For a Canadian city with such rich and apparent history, Fredericton certainly doesn’t dwell in the past. In fact, it is quite the opposite. New Brunswick’s capital is one of the most intentionally up-to-date cities in Canada, and the world for that matter. Sounds like a bag-of-wind statement, but Fredericton was actually named one of the world’s top seven intelligent communities for two consecutive years (2008 and 2009). But more on that later. First, Mayor Brad Woodside would like to offer some context as how his city got to where it is today.

“It is incredible what Fredericton has done in the last several years,” Woodside boasts. “Things started to turn around for the city in 1992, when we did our economic development strategy. That year, governments across the country were starting to cut back, so we got all of the community stakeholders together to look at where we had come from, where we were then and where we wanted to be in the future. We had input from city officials, university leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, real estate developers, telecom firms, the hydro-electric utility and a representative of a small group of software investors.”

The community saw that relying on government to spur the local economy wasn’t the best strategy anymore, and the group decided to diversify and expand into different industries. The rest came easily. “When we thought of the infrastructure we had in place—such as the universities and engineering firms—we decided that we should be a smart city,” says the Mayor. “We looked to information technology, broadband and high-speed internet to place ourselves. We decided to do that and have never left that path. It has lead to provincial, national and international recognition, and the economic development meeting is where it all began. We have really have become a smart city.”

To clarify, being an “intelligent community” has specific criteria. The award recognises communities that have come to understand the enormous challenges of the broadband economy—that is, globalization through high-speed communication and information technology—and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it. The organization responsible for handing out this accolade is the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York-based think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st-century community.

Forging ahead

When Fredericton decided it wanted to be on the cutting edge of information technology, it wasn’t as easy as opting into the local high-speed package. Canadian carriers were focusing investment in the same economic centers (i.e. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, etc.) and were content with their profits there, showing no interest in upgrading dial-up service in “have-not provinces.”

Taking matters into its own hands, Fredericton formed its own telecommunications company, called e-Novations, which was established as a co-op. e-Novations got funding commitments from founding members—including the City, the universities, business users and the region’s largest internet service provider—and used those pledges to build a fibre ring that connected their facilities. The co-op then pooled demand and purchased broadband capacity in bulk.

Because networks tend to have significant idle capacity, e-Novations was able to reduce the members’ cost and established a new competitive price point in the region. By mid-2002, new demand for membership was rising from people outside the downtown core, so they started linking to facilities such as the local airport. Once commercial carriers became members of e-Novations, the community network model was a confirmed success.

In 2003, Fredericton used its fibre ring as a backbone to position almost 300 WiFi access points throughout downtown and the business corridor. Instead of targeting hot spots, Fredericton wanted to blanket the area with overlapping coverage zones. Thus, the Fred-eZone was born, covering 65 per cent of the city, in which access to broadband wireless is absolutely free.

Because of changes such as these, as well as several other initiatives, Fredericton has set itself apart and blossomed into a buzzing community. The population has grown, and so have average household incomes, building permits, the labour force and job opportunities. By 2005, the knowledge sector employed more people than did the provincial government, for the first time in history. In fact, on a per capita basis, the city hosts the largest engineering cluster in North America, attracting millions in venture capital.

A year off

After winning twice in the ICF top-seven competition, Mayor Woodside decided not to run for 2010. “This would have been the third year,” he says, “but we decided to take a break.”

Interestingly, there’s a good chance Fredericton would have taken home another title this year. “We just made the announcement to provide fibre optics to every home,” Woodside laughs. “That would have been a big news story for the Intelligent Community award. We also had Research in Motion working on a deal to create 50 new jobs here. RIM carries a lot of weight in the high-tech world and when they decide to be in a place, there’s a good reason for it. That deal would have carried us a long way, too.”

So why didn’t Fredericton go for it? “I felt it was wearing down the community,” says Woodside. “A lot of effort goes into these competitions. To be in the top seven, to me, put us in a place where we want to be. We will continue to ride the wave.”

There you have it. The good old east coast mentality, where there is always something to be said for work-life balance.

Leading in quality of life

That balanced ethic is how Fredericton keeps its small-town feel, which is something the Mayor never wants to lose. “I would like to see the city continue to grow and prosper,” he says, “but not at the expense of its small-town charm. We have all of the amenities of a large city, but we’re like a small town and there are so many advantages to that. We’re connected and personal.”

While Fredericton is committed to forging into the future, it’s refreshing to see how committed the residents are to preserving the lifestyle they have built over centuries. They have awards to prove it. According to Mayor Woodside, Fredericton has won national awards for being one of the best family cities; being one of the best places to live; having the most optimistic employers; being a national leader in partners for climate protection; and for being one of the best walking cities.

“Wellness is important,” says Woodside, “and we lead, not just the province, but in a good many instances, the country for providing citizens with healthy recreation. Fredericton is also committed to preserving our surroundings, and we lead in that area too. We’re an environmental city. Our programming is not only to protect what we have, but to enhance it for future generations.”

Speaking of future generations, Fredericton is looking forward to welcoming more people into the community. “We’re actively promoting immigration,” Woodside tells. “We cannot rely on native New Brunswick citizens to have babies to sustain our population. So, I travel to China and Korea once or twice a year and work immigration over there. It’s starting to pay off.”

“Our population is growing, and we have one of the youngest populations in of any city in Canada,” the Mayor continues. “Our community is young, dynamic and well-educated at our universities. And when you start to see those young people get jobs in newly-arriving knowledge-based businesses, it all fits together. That creates hope for families that want to stay and it drives our economy.”

www.fredericton.ca

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