City of Fredericton
As the capital of New Brunswick, the City of Fredericton has become known as a renowned leader in economic prosperity and business diversity, which helps set the tone for other towns and cities to emulate throughout the province. Fredericton is located in the west-central part of the province and is bisected by the Saint John River, creating two distinct areas of the city characterized as the ‘Northside’ and the ‘Southside’.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien and the CEO at Ignite Fredericton and Knowledge Park Inc., Larry Shaw about the robust economic activities taking place in their city of 60,000 people – 110,000 when factoring in the entire Fredericton-Oromocto Region. Two censuses ago Fredericton had the highest percentage population increase in eastern Canada and that was followed up by a significant increase in the most recent statistics as well. The city provides affordable housing, low taxes and a safe place to work and raise a family.
“We just went through a very aggressive collective community effort to come up with a new growth strategy. With all the research we did it showed that we should be growing at an average of 1,000 people per year for the next 25 to 30 years,” says Mayor O’Brien.
The anticipated continued growth pattern will provide enhanced economic prosperity to the community and is moving at a healthy rate whereby the budgets and infrastructure are able to keep pace without undue strain or overextension.
Throughout many decades Fredericton was predominantly identified as a government and university town, with the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University within city limits along with the provincial legislature. However, leaders within the business community astutely recognized that a far greater degree of diversification was required over the long-term in order to attain a more substantive level of economic success and consistent stability. It was at that point when substantial emphasis was placed on turning towards being a knowledge-based centre, a platform that has certainly paid dividends throughout a continuous transformation.
Ignite Fredericton is the economic arm within the city and the region, identified as the City of Fredericton, the Town of Oromocto and the Village of New Maryland, which wholly accounts for the catchment basin of the population base. Ignite Fredericton runs through three market-facing brands: Ignite Fredericton, responsible for economic growth; Knowledge Park, the $50 million infrastructure component; and thirdly Planet Hatch, the entrepreneurial centre that assists startups in finding their operational legs.
“There is somewhere between 40 and 45 new companies that are coming here to establish themselves on an annual basis. We help companies understand an idea and get it out to market and then there is market validation where the companies begin to grow,” says Shaw.
If one were to draw a small 2km circle around Knowledge Park you would pick up about 60 research organizations and about 75% of the academic research being done in the province on an annual basis.
RPC is New Brunswick’s provincial research and technology organization offering contract research and development and technical services in Fredericton, Moncton, and St. George. Through RPC and its 130 scientists, engineers and technologists, Fredericton has become a leader in the cannabis space and medical marijuana analysis.
“RPC does the biological testing of all of medical grade marijuana nationally. Truckloads of marijuana come in to RPC on a daily basis to be verified for their biological components and particularly the lack of pesticides and the need for it to be organic,” explains Shaw.
Upon examination of the value proposition and how Fredericton differentiates itself from other jurisdictions, it is primarily due to having an established natural innovation district without the need to spend millions of dollars to create it.
“We have the most competitive location in North America as determined by KPMG,” Shaw proudly states.
As the economic development agency, Ignite Fredericton is the primary catalyst to ensuring that adequate collaboration is always transpiring between the many various local enterprises. Provincially the mandate is handled by Opportunities New Brunswick, the organization that has the incentive dollars and initiatives to support economic development across New Brunswick. Once it reaches the local market is when Ignite Fredericton takes the baton and works alongside existing local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs.
It is estimated that about 70% of the research in New Brunswick occurs in Fredericton when work conducted at the University of New Brunswick is factored in.
“It drives a lot of the other sector focuses such as engineering. Cybersecurity is a significant focus. We’re taking a national and an international lens to the opportunity and are in the process of designing a cyber security park. It will be a $30 million infrastructure that is going to be an expansion of Knowledge Park,” reveals Shaw.
The engines of the provincial government have been focused intently on the cybersecurity front through a dedicated organization called CyberNB, whose purpose-built strategy is focused on creating a safe and resilient internet for citizens and businesses and is a special Operating Agency of Opportunities NB.
CyberNB has partnered with Ignite Fredericton and Knowledge Park to create the infrastructure necessary to take a leadership position in cybersecurity in a targeted area, namely critical infrastructure management and security. Critical infrastructure includes transportation systems and the power grid and all of its associated critical components. There is no other jurisdiction in Canada that is focused on this as a primary sector.
“We’ve lined up a number of organizations that are involved in the initiative, including UNB. The school has two research chairs in the cybersecurity space. They also have Canada’s first Cybersecurity Institute, which operates as an incubation thought leader,” notes Shaw.
One of the early success stories out of UNB was a security intelligence software company called Q1 Labs, which was purchased by IBM a few years ago for just under $1 billion. IBM’s global position for network management services associated in cybersecurity is located in Fredericton and a noticeable cluster has already begun to form.
A collaborative initiative known as Smart Grid is underway whereby the Province of New Brunswick via NB Power, the University of New Brunswick and Siemens, are developing a worldwide smart grid infrastructure. It’s a similar to what IBM is accomplishing in the cybersecurity space – and now Siemens is doing it in the smart-grid space.
“We’re working hard to expand and enlarge the economic development plans that we’re working on to have a better layer of diversification in our marketplace,” says Shaw.
Fredericton has developed a specific focus through a task-force initiative on creative industries. There is more than $500 million in trade industry activity in the province of which Fredericton carries the most significant footprint within that sector.
The famed Harvest & Jazz Festival has been an annual tradition since 1991 and attracts about 100,000 people during a week-long interval to the beautiful and historic downtown. It opens this year on Tuesday, September 11 and runs through Sunday, September 16. More than 400 musicians, 150 performances and 27 stages will be set up over six city blocks during the six days of fun and excitement for local residents and tourists alike.
Tourism revenue in Fredericton moved up another 7.8% from the previous year, reaching $275.1 million in 2017, which is an all-time record. Total visits were up by 3%; overnight visits went up by 6% and day trips to the city were up by 2%.
A substantive amount of time and attention is being focused on the creative industry and by extension there is a master plan to work in other reciprocal industries, with microbreweries a prime example of that. While on the one hand it’s very much a tourism attraction, but there is also a great deal of science behind the 15 microbreweries currently operating in the city. It starts to build an ecosystem that is benefiting multiple layers of skills and business.
“When you look at the microbrewery industry it can be a rural growth agenda; it can be an urban growth agenda. It involves farming, manufacturing and tourism,” continues Shaw.
“What we’ve also noticed here in Fredericton deals with the social innovation space. We have Planet Hatch to incubate entrepreneurs,” says Adam Bell, Assistant Director, Finance, Innovation and Technology for the ?City of Fredericton. “For us, being a Smart City means it’s about organizing the relationship between the technology innovators, the social innovators and the entrepreneurs to really create better lifestyles for people in our community.”
The University of New Brunswick was recently recognized as one of the most entrepreneurial universities in Canada. Intelligent young people are graduating from the academic sector and are poised to make a difference, which is exactly what Mayor O’Brien, Shaw and Bell want to see as part of a concerted effort in taking the community to the next level.
“What we’re trying to do with the Smart Cities approach is to build a series of partnerships that they can make those people work together,” says Bell. “We are very organized in this space, which will be a huge benefit to the city.”
Also available to business people and residents is an Open Data portal, to which the city has been nationally recognized for implementing. Members of the public are strongly encouraged to participate on that comprehensive data stream. Oftentimes they will come up with outstanding ideas or initiatives, whether it’s emerging out of the social innovation space or the entrepreneurial space.
“Sometimes it’s us helping them to understand how they can organize their business or the social innovation to be successful and other times it’s them showing us how we can change our value proposition to be a better community. It’s that type of open collaboration that is helpful,” continues Bell.
Diversity Drives Success
Diversity in business and cultural makeup are both key ingredients to success. To be a modern city on the cutting edge of business innovation it requires a need for embracing multiculturalism and Fredericton has always been an acknowledged frontrunner in that regard. In fact, the city made national headlines for its outpouring of support in settling the most Syrian refugees per capita of any city in Canada.
“Our downtown business community is thriving, and it’s full. We’re becoming more and more multicultural every year,” says O’Brien.
A mandate of Ignite Fredericton deals with population growth and immigration.
“Through the federal funding of the local immigration partnership program we’ve formed our own local immigration partnership task force and it’s referred to as the Newcomer Partnership Council. It’s a cluster of organizations that operate in a collaborative way to ensure that we have a high ratio of newcomers landing in our city and we have a higher ratio of those that are really good are staying,” says Shaw.
The city has a myriad of programs that cater to international students as part of an effort to have them assimilate within the community after they’ve completed their studies. By their senior year in school they are very much integrated into the community. But as Shaw points out, the agenda must be worked upon during the entire four years in order to make them truly feel they are part of the community and will have a voice in how it is run in the future.
The 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, formerly known as CFB Gagetown, is the second-largest military base in Canada and the third-largest employer in the province behind only the Government of New Brunswick and the Irving Groups and is located about 20km outside of Fredericton. It has an annual spend of $200 million in Fredericton and $700 million throughout New Brunswick. During the winter the population base of civilian and uniformed offers is about 7,500. In the summer that number increases to 11,500.
The military base officially opened in 1958 as a training facility. It boasts 1,100 square kilometres for training, 1,500 km of roads, 900 km of tracks and 740 buildings and is led by Colonel K.E. Osmond. The main garrison, located in the town of Oromocto, has a large impact on the local community.
“As we develop our cybersecurity initiatives, just think what National Defense can bring to the table,” says O’Brien.
“Our initiative to establish cybersecurity around critical infrastructure – obviously military assets and the protection of those assets – become a very large component of critical infrastructure,” adds Shaw.
It was about five years ago when the city really began to put a strong emphasis on developing sports tourism. Equipped with a number of excellent facilities and world-class community centres, Fredericton hosts many regional, national and international sporting events, which generates millions of dollars for the local economy.
“Whether you are a sports enthusiast or not, it’s something the community can rally around,” says O’Brien.
Fredericton has a deep-rooted love of hockey and recently played host to the Canadian men’s university hockey championships.
“We hosted it for the second year in a row and the sixth year in the last 14,” says O’Brien. “It’s the collective community that came together to organize it.”
“There are more festivals and sports tourism now. City Council is also supporting the tourism department with an operating budget to do more marketing,” confirms O’Brien.
The Future is Bright
The level of business diversification, led by numerous knowledge-based enterprises, has the city at the forefront of economic success and sustained stability. In addition to the many innovative initiatives now on the table many traditional sectors remain vitally important as well.
Fredericton also is one of just five cities in Canada identified by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce with a current number of significant natural resource programs on the business agenda that includes a robust supply chain for the forestry industry. About 25% of all graduates from UNB will eventually find their work home and in an industry that services or is in natural resources.
“We have about 300 companies in the city that earn their revenues from natural sources,” says Shaw.
Through word of mouth and a solid foundation that is being laid by city officials and business leaders, O’Brien and Shaw each believe Fredericton is going to begin seeing an exponential return on those investments and the compounding effect is going to start to kick in. Fredericton offers its citizens and businesses a balanced lifestyle, and this balance attracts and retains people in the community.
A few years ago Queen St. – voted No.1 street in Canada by the Urban Planners of Canada and millions of dollars is being invested over the next few years to re-modernize the historic Officers’ Square, which is a main attraction within the downtown tourism hub. O’Brien says there is a commitment to retain the historic nature but it will be made more functional for big concerts and events.
“There will also be potential for popup markets and breweries and the ability to enhance our downtown like never before,” he says. “It’s a beautiful city with the river setting and historic downtown and probably the largest urban forest of any city of its size. When we get people here for a convention or business trip they are our best advocates – they sell our city,”
The desire to accept new initiatives, technological innovation, succinct, identifiable business-sector focuses while remaining true to the historical background of the city have all been integral factors to economic success.
“As we move through the Smart City we’re going to become a broader context, which is a Smart Community – and there is a difference. Smart City has a technology conversation to it and Smart Communities talks about how do you interact at whatever community level it happens to be,” explains Shaw.
It is through this well-planned initiative that O’Brien and Shaw believe will be the focus in what drives further economic activity, much of which is being driven by a cloud-based technology environment.
“We’re going to have much quicker cluster growth in sectors that are very specific because the infrastructure is in place. There will be a significant increase in cybersecurity, translating into hundreds of jobs and we expect major companies will come in to partner on that initiative,” continues Shaw.
O’Brien. Shaw and Bell are each confident about the direction the city is taking and that it will continue to grow and diversify. Just recently a national cyberspace competition called Cyber Titans was held for young middle-school students and it was the children from Fredericton took first place, so optimism for the future is certainly justified.
“I picture those kids, who are in Grade 8 today, in about four years when many of them will be workforce ready in our current context and some of the kids that are just coming out of high school right now are getting soaked up by some of these cybersecurity companies,” concludes Bell. “We’re seeing a cyber snowball that is rolling down the hill now. We’re very organized through the whole ecosystem. Fredericton is going to be a great place to be in the new economy.”