Municipality of the County of Kings
The Municipality of the County of Kings is located on Nova Scotia’s northwestern shore, bounded by the Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin, and is widely recognized as the province’s richest agricultural region. The entire Annapolis Valley has a population of about 50,000 with more than 600 farms.
Kings County was officially incorporated as a municipality in 1879 with the consolidation of the townships of Horton, Cornwallis and Aylesford. This paved the way to the establishment of the present local government structure in the County. The towns of Kentville in 1886, Wolfville in 1893 and Berwick in 1923 were later incorporated out of the municipality.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with County of Kings Chief Executive Administrative Officer Tom MacEwan and Economic Development Officer Mark Strickland about the municipality’s economic base and its many recent successes.
“One of the main aspects of Kings County is its rich agricultural tradition and that goes all the way back to the first Acadian settlers in Grand-Pré, which is Nova Scotia’s most recent UNESCO World Heritage site and that goes back to the 17th Century,” says MacEwan.
Without doubt agriculture is the predominant industry, but there are other notable business sectors including manufacturing with a large Michelin Tire plant in Waterville, which employs about 1,200 people. Tire exports are a billion-dollar export industry in Nova Scotia.
“There are three plants in the province and we have the largest one here, which produces the large-scale truck tires,” continues MacEwan. “Michelin is one of the stories that we like to talk about because of the municipal unit’s efforts to create an environment that will allow that Michelin plant to expand its operations.”
In addition to the Michelin plant another major employer is CFB Greenwood with about 1,900 employees. Its primary RCAF lodger unit is 14 Wing, commonly referred to as 14 Wing Greenwood. There is also Canadian Forces Camp Aldershot in Kentville, which is more of a military infantry base.
The Annapolis Valley is recognized as the third most important fruit-growing area in Canada and is home to a local company called Scotian Gold Cooperative Limited & Country Store, which is owned by the local apple growers. It produces more than half the apples grown in Atlantic Canada in orchards stretching from Windsor to Granville Ferry. Scotian Gold packs, stores and markets about 60% of the apple production in Nova Scotia and is the largest apple packing and storage operation in Eastern Canada with fruit arriving from 55 family-operated apple orchards across the province.
“It markets to all major retailers in Canada as well as exports to the U.S., England and the Caribbean,” notes MacEwan.
“The exporting market is growing every day,” adds Strickland “There are traditional apple crops but we have an agricultural research station here and they’ve come up with value-added crops like Honeycrisp and those are big export apples. We get a large amount of dollars out of them. An example is that Scotian Gold exports their Honeycrisp apples to Costco in the U.S. and they can receive close to $1 per apple. They plan on doubling their production here in Kings County in the next 10 years.”
Scotian Gold has initiated construction on a new 28,000-square foot packing facility and the local chicken producers are looking at creating a system where they can they can process their feed locally, although that still may be a little ways down the road.
There is also the continuously expanding wine industry in the Annapolis Valley that adds tremendous benefit to the local economy. Kings County is home to nine wineries and Annapolis Valley is home to 11 with two more on stream.
A comprehensive economic impact study conducted by the Winery Association of Nova Scotia in 2013 concluded that the wine industry contributes $196 million annually to the Nova Scotia economy. From that $196 million in economic activity, $25 million was generated in tax revenue and $30 million in wages. The industry supports directly and indirectly 854 full-time equivalent jobs. Those are statistics from 2013, and the wine industry has gotten substantially larger each year since then.
“The report also detailed the economic impact of the wine industry as a catalyst for tourism and in 2011 there were approximately 100,000 tourists visiting wineries in Nova Scotia, and again that continues to grow. We also have the growth of the cider industry, craft breweries and distilleries. We’re seeing all of this come to life right before us. It started with some of the long-standing wineries in the region and it’s continuing to grow,” remarks MacEwan.
If an individual purchases a $20 bottle of wine made in Nova Scotia $18 goes back into the local economy. But if a person instead decides to buy a $20 bottle of imported wine, then only about $4 goes back into the local economy.
“If you look at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation numbers, the local wines, beers, distilled products and ciders we’re showing double-digit increases every year. Our own local people are buying the local products,” adds Strickland.
Aside from the magnificent breathtaking panoramic views along the coastline, the ocean also serves as a great asset for lobster fisheries, which can effectively run 12 months of the year, weather permitting. The ocean also provides an unlimited potential for green energy strategies. Currently there is exploration of tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy. A test turbine has been placed in the Minas Basin in the Bay of Fundy to determine the level of power production that can be generated.
“It’s a combination of green energy and modern technology,” MacEwan notes. “If it is viable and if companies are interested, we certainly want it work with them to move forward with green energy initiatives, provided that the appropriate environmental protections are in place.”
Meanwhile on the technology side, the Valley Community Fibre Network was initiated in 2005 with a primary goal of connecting communities and local businesses with the technological infrastructure needed to succeed on a global level. It is a 186 km fibre optic network that connects Middleton to Halifax, as well as the other partners in between.
“It’s partly municipally owned,” MacEwan says. “One of the industries that we’d like to see grow is the local IT industry, taking advantage of the backbone that the VCFN represents. We have a local cartographer who we are working with on mapping. He did an incredible map of the landscape of Grand-Pré and we’re having him prepare a map of the wineries.”
Both MacEwan and Strickland spend a great deal of time and effort on ensuring that the world knows the County of Kings is open for business. Their hard work – along with support staff – has clearly been paying off with a tremendous spike in economic activity.
“Our building permit values for October of this year are up 137% over October of last year,” says Strickland. “Year to date we are up 29% over last year and trending to have our highest values since 2010. We’re leading the province in residential home sales – up 15.6% compared to about 8% for the province.”
A major attraction that draws people to the County of Kings is its great quality of life. It’s an exceptional rural agricultural setting with urban conveniences, growth centres, towns and villages all within an hour’s drive of Halifax. There are also two First Nations’ reserves, to which MacEwan and Strickland say the municipality has taken great pride in the level of social, cultural and economic relationships that have been cultivated.
Additionally, the County of Kings has excellent educational facilities with its primary and secondary schools, the Nova Scotia Community College and Acadia University in nearby Wolfville.
As part of an effort to further expand economic growth, Kings County has the Valley Regional Enterprise Network, which comprises all the municipal units within the economic region. Its fundamental mandate is to support business growth, retention and expansion.
“When you’re looking at business coming to any kind of municipal unit or city there are all kinds of barriers. Getting people through the system by opening doors is what we can do to help. We’ve taken a private-sector approach to governance. Both Tom and I are from the private sector so we identify with businesses that time is money,” says Strickland. “We are open for business. If you’re coming here to see us and you want to put time and money here, we’re interested,” says Strickland.
MacEwan says a crucial aspect in growing the local economy will be to keep the next generation of workers engaged and wanting to remain in the area in order to help develop the municipality to an even greater level. “Our council recently approved a community engagement strategy and a strong component of that includes youth engagement. Our hope is that by engaging them in the process is that they will feel like part of the solution moving forward and encourage them to remain in the area,” he says.
Another recent initiative taken on by the municipality has been to financially support groups and organizations that are hosting recreational and sporting events. Recent examples include the Canadian Mixed Masters curling championships and for the local Ken-Wo golf course, which hosted the 2016 Canadian Women Amateur Championship. In early November Acadia hosted the women’s CIS national soccer championships.
“When these recreational and sporting events take place, the tourism number spike. These events put hundreds of millions of dollars back into the local community,” says MacEwan.
“Sports tourism in Canada is $5.2 billion a year. We’d like to have a piece of that pie,” says Strickland.
In addition to sports tourism, the region is home to several significant newer festivals, including Devour! The Food Film Fest that is now into its fourth year and attracts people visiting from all over the world. The most established and well-known annual event is the Apple Blossom Festival in May, which is attended by more than 100,000 people.
“We’ve taken the approach that we want to have festivals at least nine months of the year to grow that tourism base. You don’t make money in tourism by just having your hotel rooms filled in July and August,” says Strickland. “From an overall perspective, we’re setting ourselves up to be very successful over the next few years.”