Town of Amherst
With a population of just 9,500, the Town of Amherst, Nova Scotia is in fact the largest town in Cumberland County, with an impressive history that includes being the birth-place of four of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation.
The town is about an hour and a half from Halifax, and just a short jaunt from the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Its location makes it a logistical centre for the Maritimes, and has a significant role in the local transportation industry. Amherst is also only one hour away from Prince Edward Island, adding to the appeal of the town being a hub for tourism.
Amherst is an old town, and has been drawing people from across the country since it was established in 1764. In fact, today Amherst is one of the only towns in the Maritimes to see an actual growth in population in recent years. Rob Small, Mayor of Amherst since 2008, says that Amherst is “one of the few towns outside Halifax to see growth in what is considered a rural area of Nova Scotia.”
Amherst’s local streets and old neighbourhoods are popular places for tourists and residents alike because of their old architecture, including grand old Victorian houses constructed early in the 20th century. Many of these buildings are considered industrial artifacts because they were constructed during a time when Maritime industry was growing very quickly. Industry is still booming today, and Small says that the town’s motto, “Faith in our people, pride in our products”, speaks volumes about its culture and potential for business development.
The Amherst attraction
Recently, a large Canadian grocery conglomerate set up a top-of-the-line bakery facility in Amherst, and the town’s motto was validated. “It’s easy to brag when you hear the head of a new bakery tells you that the [Amherst facility] is the best operating facility in all of their chains of facilities in Canada. That chain is now placing our people in other facilities to show them how it’s done,” Small beams.
“In terms of a work ethic, Amhert’s people are second to none,” he adds.
Having the right culture in Amherst has certainly helped to bring industry into the town. The city is hoping to expand industry to include new types of businesses into the already growing town. The plan is to “market and promote Amherst as a first-class location for business and industry,” and the town endeavours to do this by analyzing market data to support their decisions related to business. The town also assists investors with site selection including with regards to infrastructure and permitting requirements.
In a town the size of Amherst, and with the culture it has, Small says that it is relatively easy to navigate if someone wants to start a business. “It’s relatively straight-forward, with not a lot of red tape,” he explains.
The town is also concerned with keeping existing businesses in tact and in town, of course, and there are lots of resources to help them. In fact, Small says that developing the business community is “all about getting the secret out” about what a great location Amherst is for business.
Amherst has always been able to also weather economic slowdowns well. “We think we have a great location here in Amherst, and we have a variety of businesses in our town and a strong industry, so we’ve been very fortunate to weather the most recent downturn, over the last couple of the years,” Small reasons. He adds that Amherst didn’t experience the downturn the way its western counterparts did.
Amherst is host to many industries including aerospace and manufacturing, and also agriculture and food companies. Maritime Pride Eggs is a prime example of a company that has seen success in Amherst. The company has a new central plant in the town, and is arguably the largest egg grading and marketing operation in Atlantic Canada.
The town helps to develop businesses by maintaining regular contact with the business community and makes government programs and services available to them. All these initiatives are geared to growing business. “We want the business community to know that we are the logistical centre for distribution in the Maritimes, and that there is a great opportunity to locate here in Amherst. We have the people to work, and very competitive costs in the area to build and grow a business,” Small explains proudly. In fact, Amherst sees much lower property costs than other Nova Scotia cities, again adequately positioning the town for business investment.
Building a sustainable community
Small says that although Amherst is relatively small, it is still important for sustainability initiatives to be integrated into strategic planning. Currently, roadways in Amherst are being updated with LED lighting. “We’re hoping to be the first municipality to convert all our lighting systems to LED,” he says.
In addition, the community has a superior water system with above-average water quality. After a cross-country water survey was done, Amherst’s water supply was deemed the “best supply east of the Rockies.” Water quality is a draw for business and community investment, as well as natural weather conditions that open opportunities for renewable energy development.
“We are also a town that can offer several types of energy resources. Many companies have converted from a boiler system to natural gas,” Small says. In addition, the Amherst area boasts the highest amount of sun accumulation in all of Nova Scotia, so there are plenty of opportunities to develop solar power energy.
Wind power is another opportunity for Amherst, although a recent wind power project had to be shelved due to lack of investment. However, the town is optimistic about the plans for a 28-windmill plant to be built that will be powered by winds from the Bay of Fundy.
Amherst is working on many projects to improve the town, including a major redevelopment of the downtown core. “We’re working on a walkway and green area that extends into the marsh on the toe of our town,” Small says, adding that it should be a good tourist draw. The town is focused on improving conditions for seniors and youth, including the construction of a skateboard park and doing upgrades to current facilities.
“We’re focused on our five-year downtown development plan, with an investment of $15 million.” Part of that plan includes changing traffic flows, looking at town signage, and improving accessibility. “We want to bring people back to our downtown,” Small says.
“We want local businesses and industry to know we’re going to improve on conditions that allow people to live in the downtown and enjoy it, while working there.”
With so much development going on, Amherst is showing its true colours as a place to visit, and a place to invest. Small echoes sentiments felt by residents of Amherst, saying “the reason why you’d want to visit Amherst is it truly is a beautiful town, and it is easy to live here and enjoy all the amenities of Amherst life.”
For more information on economic development and development projects in Amherst, visit: www.town.amherst.ns.ca.