City of Miramichi
The spirit of Miramichi is one of resilience, peace, and opportunity. When the economic downturn led to the closure of local mills in this region of New Brunswick, it responded with a plan. The ‘Spirit of Miramichi’ campaign was launched to proactively promote alternatives to the collapse of the forestry sector. Government of all three levels, business and community stakeholders banded together to re-invent the perception of Miramichi. Today, the region represents an up-and-coming region of green technology, manufacturing, and creative technology. This month, CBJ tells a story of a region’s climb back from the economic downturn, the plan that is taking it there, and the people who stand behind it.
The region of Miramichi resulted from an amalgamation of several smaller communities in 1995. Nestled at the mouth of the Miramichi River, the history of this region dates back to the 1600s and has a rich history of Acadian, Irish, Scottish and First Nations people. Surrounded by thick natural forests, this natural resource has been the lifeblood of the region from the industrial revolution up to the most recent paper mills. Tragically, the recent economic downturn was particularly hard on Miramichi.
By 2007, several dominant paper mills had closed their doors for business in Miramichi. These closures alone eliminated over 2,000 direct employment positions from the economy, and that was not the only hit. The Canadian Labour Council recently reported that in the period of 4 years (2004-2008) the number of employment positions in the Miramichi region fell from 17,000 to 10,000. Mayor Gerry Cormier puts this in perspective, saying “this would be the equivalent of Ottawa losing approximately 250,000 jobs.” An economic strategy was clearly needed to deflect the impact of the recession.
Navigating the economic downturn
So how did Miramichi manage this devastating blow? By embarking on a rebranding campaign to highlight the reasons that Miramichi is a great place to do business, and attract new investments into the region. Economic Development Officer Jeff MacTavish was brought in to spearhead the new campaign. A local community member himself, MacTavish empathized with the struggles of the community. “It was a tough day in Miramichi when those mills closed,” he said. This connection to the town is likely the motivation behind his passion for attracting business to Miramichi.
The Spirit of Miramichi campaign was launched to attract new business to the region. There is a significant, skilled workforce, predominantly bilingual, who are eagerly waiting for new opportunities. This, in and of itself, is a reason to consider investment. Says Mayor Cormier, “The Miramichi’s workforce is our greatest asset. This workforce has the ability, desire and skills to make any business flourish.” But what sectors is the region vying for? Upon consultation and research, it was decided that that there was opportunity for advanced manufacturing to establish in the region because of the workforce’s expertise in producing goods. This includes both traditional blue collar manufacturing, and also “green collar” opportunities, referring to companies that produce components or products for the green energy and technology sector.
Green collar business
Why green energy products? MacTavish elaborates on the studies that were undertaken by a consultant and the results that were found. “One of the interesting discoveries that happened in our pursuit for a new economic engine was that green technologies were identified.” The reason for this relates to the strength and size of the existing workforce, the skills of the people, as well as the dedication and experience in producing and manufacturing. This is, after all, a community that has survived largely on manufacturing products for many years. Says MacTavish, “We may not necessarily be looking to establish the windmills here or the biomass plants here, but the components that make up those plants; we’re thinking of ‘made in Miramichi’ products for the green energy sector.”
Support for investment
Given the current focus on green technology and continuing government mandates incorporating green initiatives, this was a highly intuitive move for the region. So how has the strategy faired thus far? The campaign has just been launched and the final pieces of the puzzle have to go through council, but MacTavish has seen promising interest and hopes are high. “As far as interest goes from green-tech companies, we have seen interest from a plasma gasification developer, and a manufacturer of LED lights.” There are numerous funding projects available from the government of New Brunswick for new businesses which can be highly beneficial to the establishing business. Mayor Cormier notes that the region is able to offer tailor made incentives to new or expanding companies, “which makes Miramichi one of the most competitive jurisdictions for conducting business.”
The region has a solid infrastructure with a location close to major highways, plus rail and air accessibility, and barrage service to the Port of Belledune. Miramichi has a long history of manufacturing and production and knows the best strategies to get products to their desired destinations. There are locally owned transportation companies willing and eager to work with new clients and assist them in their logistic needs. Every step of the way there is support and opportunity for investors. Last—but certainly not least—of all, Miramichi is a beautiful location with an outstanding quality of life. Residents enjoy low crime rates, high education standards, and a prime location just minutes away from outstanding beaches and pristine salmon fishing rivers. All of these are contributing factors to the wonderful spirit of the region.
There are numerous reasons to consider investment in Miramichi. An eager and skilled workforce, a number of worthwhile government incentives, and a beautiful backdrop against the gorgeous East Coast of Canada. After a wearisome period of recession and struggle, CBJ anticipates a period of prosperity for this wonderful little place.