The City of Moncton
The City of Moncton – Canada’s First Bilingual City is the Transportation Hub of the Maritimes
Nestled in the heart of the Petitcodiac River Valley, the beautiful city of Moncton, New Brunswick is situated in the southeastern section of the province in Westmorland County. Existing at the geographic centre of the Maritime Provinces has earned it the nickname “Hub City”, which has effectively been used to generate immense ongoing economic prosperity. From a distance, the landscape is clearly defined by the visual sightline of the 127-metre Bell Aliant tower along with the Assumption Building and the old historic Catholic Church on St. George St.
The city is named for Lt. Col. Robert Monckton, who captured nearby Fort Beauséjour in 1755 and is also known for his roles as second-in-command at the Plains of Abraham. With a metro population of about 140,000, Moncton finds itself as the economic centre to a geographic radius that pulls in as many as 1.3 million people from the smaller cities and towns on a consistent basis.
The opportunistic geographic position in the centre of the Atlantic Trade Gateway has helped the region to strategically become a transportation and distribution hub for road, rail and air cargo. Advanced transportation infrastructure combined with a competitive cost environment has supported the growth of the region’s manufacturing, retail, tourism and service sectors.
The region also continues experience growth in its technology-based sectors. Moncton is home to a number of world class firms in gaming technologies, knowledge industries and advanced manufacturing. Moncton’s back office cluster is one of the most successful in Canada and features companies such as UPS, FedEx, Purolator Courier, Royal Bank of Canada, Camco and ExxonMobil.
Vibrant Retail Sector
The retail sector in Moncton is one of the driving forces of the local economy thanks largely to the fact many national and international store chains are in the city. This is the type of luxury not afforded to most towns and cities and so it’s not uncommon for people to drive more than two hours to come and do their shopping in Moncton at major outlets such as Champlain Place and the Wheeler Park Power Centre. The former just recently underwent a massive $14 million renovation project in order to maximize support for the increasingly higher volumes of patrons.
“Moncton continues to punch above its weight, and we’re extremely pleased with the growth and prosperity we’ve been seeing within our community,” says Mayor George LeBlanc. “Having been recognized by KPMG as the lowest cost city in which to do business both in Canada and the USA reaffirms the value and opportunity that exist here.”
The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Kevin Silliker, Director of Economic Development for the City of Moncton, which as previously mentioned, is a popular destination for many smaller communities living on the outskirts. In fact, it’s not unusual for citizens in outlying areas to drive great distances in order to obtain specialty services and amenities they can’t obtain in their own local jurisdiction.
“Our economic region is about 2.5 hours of commute time outside of our city limits, which equates to a draw of about 1.3 million people,” Silliker states. “In Atlantic Canada we’re not as dense in terms of our built-up communities.”
Thanks to its fortunate geographic position in Atlantic Canada, Moncton is considered the main transportation hub for servicing so many different regions as goods are transferred from one part of Canada to another and internationally. It’s an aspect that reaps tremendous economic benefits for the city.
“We have regional pull not only from the Metro Moncton area but also northern Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and northern New Brunswick so it’s definitely a big part of our value proposition with the Maritimes,” Silliker says.
Champlain Place and Wheeler Park Power Centre are two major retail centres that are also massive contributors to the local economy not only supported by people in the city, but those on the outer perimeter up to that 2.5 hour commuting radius. The former recently had a $14 million upgrade and has many of the national and international brands coveted by so many out of town shoppers.
“We were the city that had the first Costco in New Brunswick,” Silliker tells us. “It would be all of New Brunswick that would be driving to this region. PEI still doesn’t have a Costco. The next nearest location is Halifax, which is about three hours away. Moncton really became a mecca for shopping based on several destination retailers.”
Next on the horizon is Cabela’s, a major U.S. outdoor hunting and sportsmen retailer based in Nebraska.
It’s scheduled to open in the spring of 2015.
“It’s going to be another destination retailer that will create a lot of stir and excitement in the region and a pull of beyond a three-hour drive for those in outlying areas; people will be driving for this retailer.”
Geography was also the main reason as to why Moncton was first established. Initially it was a headquarter base and a hub for the Intercolonial Railway, which eventually morphed into CN, so the economy for a century was based primarily on trains. For a number of decades, CN sent all of their trains and locomotives to Moncton for repair. However, that all changed in the late 1980s when the CN shops closed and Moncton was forced to redefine itself. It was during this transitional time when the city became known as a trucking hub as well as logistics, warehousing and distributing. Manufacturing also plays into this as well. As the city becomes busier in these key economic areas, it means a much higher volume of traffic coming and going from the airport.
“We have three of Canada’s largest trucking companies based here in Moncton,” Silliker says. “The Greater Moncton International Airport is a cargo hub. We have Purolator, FedEx and UPS, so there’s a tremendous amount of freight and cargo be it from ground or air transportation.”
“We’ve recently undertaken an expansion at the Greater Moncton International Airport and expanded the runway capacity. We’re now able to take larger aircraft and bigger loads. That recent infrastructure has happened, and we’re now up to a full 10,000 feet of capacity. It was necessary because we were growing so much and that was a big part of our economy.”
There are numerous daily and weekly cargo flights coming and going including a big weekly one that ships into the United Kingdom. This is a side of the business that Silliker and other city executives see as having major potential for continued growth.
The finance and insurance sectors have expanded noticeably in recent years. Assumption Life, Intact Insurance and Canada First Title are several examples of companies that are either Moncton-based growing or have been successfully landed in order to set up operations in the city.
“A lot of our business traction efforts are being focused on that,” Silliker acknowledges. “We’ve expanded our student capacity and our post-secondary course offerings in the insurance sector to help support some of the companies that are coming here. We’ve had very good feedback on that program and in working collaboratively with the insurance sector to design that program to meet their needs.”
Another burgeoning business sector for Moncton has been a specialized sector of Information Technology. Because of the vastness that encompasses IT, the towns and cities that often reap the biggest rewards are those that focus on one particular aspect of the colossal sphere.
“Everyone chases IT, so to be more specific, the niche or the lane there that we’re having a lot of success with is gaming and animation,” Silliker remarks.
Moncton is the headquarters for the Atlantic Lottery so from a gaming and animation perspective, that is the significant pillar to build from and out and around.
“We are a magnet for talent and for us the name of the game in economic development is about attracting people. We’re very encouraged to see our population growing at such a strong rate.”
Moncton is well served with post-secondary educational institutions including the University of Moncton, which is the largest Francophone institution outside of the University of Montreal, but they do offer some courses in English. Crandall University is a faith-based school and about 30 minutes away is Mount Allison University, which is often recognized as one of the top undergraduate schools in the country. There is also UNB Moncton that specializes in a nursing program. The city is also home to two campuses of the New Brunswick Community College system – New Brunswick Community College at Moncton and the French language Collège Communautaire du Nouveau Brunswick – Dieppe. Moncton also holds the distinction of becoming Canada’s first-ever officially bilingual city, even before Ottawa.
The Moncton zoo, Magnetic Hill and Magic Mountain are all centred together so it ends up being one of New Brunswick’s top-three tourism destinations year after year. Historically, Moncton has been recognized for Magnetic Hill and the very interesting optical illusion. The others that would be in the mix are The Bay of Fundy and The Rocks are also two popular destinations for visitors.
“The tidal waters from the Bay of Fundy move inland and funnel into the Petitcodiac River creating the tidal bores which moves down the river in the downtown core,” Silliker says. “We’re a member of CAZA (Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums), thanks to having a large zoo for a city of our size which is another very active tourism offering.”
The tidal bore phenomenon occurs as the result of having the leading edge of the incoming ocean tide forming a wave that travels up a river against the natural direction of the river’s current. But for an entire generation, that amazing natural wonder had been neutralized by proposed development projects.
“I believe it was back in 1969, in their infinite wisdom, a causeway was built across the Petitcodiac River, which choked the river,” Silliker says. “In recent years there had been very little tidal flow. Thank goodness there were gates in the causeway which were permanently opened three years ago and amazingly the tidal bores are back to the former glory of four to six feet.”
The Petitcodiac River earned itself international attention last year when some surfers decided they would surf the tidal bore. They’ve since approached The Guinness Book of World Records for the longest tidal bore surf in the world. The fact the river has been restored to its natural environment is still a relatively new and exciting story for local people and tourists alike.
Another beautiful area is Centennial Park, a large active green space where there’s always bevy of activity going on. There is a man-made beach along with a family playground space and lots of room for festivals and events that are commonplace throughout the year.
In 2015, Moncton will be one of a select few Canadian cities given the prestigious honour of hosting games for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer. As a lead up and test run the city hosted the women’s Under 20 tournament this year, and it was an unmitigated success. Securing a tournament that showcases the biggest names in the world in women’s soccer is something Moncton is extremely proud about.
“We’re playing with a very elite group of Canadian cities and international cities that have hosted this tournament,” Silliker notes.
The games in Moncton will be played at a new stadium that was originally built in 2010 for the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) Junior Track & Field Championships.
“We’ve hosted several CFL games here,” Silliker recalls.
Although it’s not yet known how many tickets will be available for the FIFA World Cup games, when the stadium added temporary seating for the CFL games it brought the attendance capacity to well above the 20,000 mark.
If talking about Moncton and its sports teams, the first one that invariably comes to mind is the Jr. A Wildcats, who have a long and storied tradition and serve as one of the main rallying points that really bond the local residents together.
“They are pillars of our community and Moncton is a big sporting town,” Silliker emphasizes. “The Wildcats have done an amazing job at integrating themselves in the community. They hold the annual Cats’ Cup just before the season begins. It’s a street road hockey tournament and they get kids of all ages involved. They’ve created outreach programs in schools and are great ambassadors in our community.”
Silliker and many other civic business leaders recognize just how important the Wildcats are to the community and as such they are currently in the process of looking to construct a new home for the team.
“We’ve recently engaged in an RFP process to construct a new $100 million multi-use event centre in the downtown,” Silliker confirms. “We’ll select our development partner and beginning construction in 2015.”
To facilitate the construction of the new facility, the city purchased a shopping centre in our downtown which had already been closed down. The site is selected and demolition on the former Highfield Square shopping centre has already begun. It is anticipated construction of the building will take between 20 and 22 months to complete. Silliker says there are a number of other comprehensive plans in the works that are focused on downtown development to complement the arena venture.
“We should be opening our doors for a new hockey season, events season and concert season in 2017,” he anticipates. “We want to re-engage with the riverfront and seeing Moncton take on more of a cosmopolitan and metropolitan feel. We want to influence that urban dynamic and continue on the trajectory.”
Another hockey event that has the city buzzing with anticipation is Rogers Hometown Hockey, which, along with host Ron MacLean, is coming to Moncton this coming January, making it just one of 20 cities from coast to coast being put in the national spotlight this season. The Rogers SportsNet production crew was already in the city about a month ago doing pre-production for the television program.
Moncton has received many accolades in recent years, including recognition from Google in 2012 as a Google E-town, and in 2014 KPMG did a study looking at the most cost competitive cities and Moncton was found to be the most cost competitive city to establish operations in both Canada and the United States combined.
One of the most compelling stories about Moncton comes from a test the Reader’s Digest did a couple of years ago. They took 10 Canadian cities and dropped 10 wallets in each city, and each wallet had $50 in it. Moncton was the only city in the study where all 10 wallets were returned with $50 in each wallet. Moncton was immediately recognized as Canada’s most honest city – with excellent cause.