Source – saltwire.com
- “…Cape Breton’s real estate market is hotter than it has been in a long time. “We were undervalued but now we are starting to catch up to where we should have been all along,” he said. “We all know that Nova Scotia is an excellent place to live. Now that’s no longer a secret that this is a great place to live and that there are tons of opportunities here. It’s also been one of the safest places to live during the pandemic”
Booming Construction, Real estate and biotech sectors driving Cape Breton’s long-awaited post-industrial recovery
By David Jala, May 8, 2021
SYDNEY – Are the days of post-industrialization doom and gloom finally over in Cape Breton?
A group of experts representing several key economic sectors seems to think so. And they’ve identified real estate, construction and biotech as three key areas displaying positive signs for Cape Breton’s long-suffering economy.
This positive assessment was the consensus of a virtual fireside conversation hosted by the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce during its recent annual general meeting.
REAL ESTATE BOOM
The panellists included Roger Boutilier, chief executive officer of the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors, who confirmed that Cape Breton’s real estate market is hotter than it has been in a long time.
“We were undervalued but now we are starting to catch up to where we should have been all along,” he said.
“We all know that Nova Scotia is an excellent place to live. Now that’s no longer a secret that this is a great place to live and that there are tons of opportunities here. It’s also been one of the safest places to live during the pandemic.”
Boutilier noted that the Canadian Real Estate Association estimates that each individual house sale, and there were 222 in Cape Breton in the first quarter of 2021, creates ancillary spending of about $46,000.
“Ancillary spending is everything from going to Home Hardware to buy a can of paint, to hiring a landscaping company to hack down a tree, to having a moving company transport furniture – so, an active market is a positive thing for our economy,” he said.
“But we need to be cognizant that we have a bit of a housing issue and we need to ensure that the housing stock increases. And affordable housing to us doesn’t just mean low-income housing, it is right across the spectrum.”
It is accepted that Cape Breton’s hot real estate market can be partially attributed to Canadians’ increasing desire, propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, to move to more livable communities. But there’s more to it than that alone.
There’s a construction boom going on and it’s being fueled by five major taxpayer-funded projects that include the Cape Breton Regional Hospital health care centre expansion ($500 million), the North Sydney health care redevelopment ($170 million), Nova Scotia Community College Marconi Campus relocation ($170 million), New Waterford health care and community hub redevelopment ($159 million) and the Glace Bay hospital expansion ($56 million).
According to Trent Soholt, executive director of the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council, the collective $1-billion investment is expected to generate an equal amount of private-sector spending. He said it’s also an opportunity to redefine the culture of the construction industry workplace.
“With this generational investment, the province has put contractual obligations in place to diversify our sector and to pursue projects differently,” said Soholt, who added his council is interested in the construction of everything bigger than a house that is not a road.
“We’re looking at how we become more diverse by providing more meaningful employment opportunities for diverse individuals entering our sector.
“This will really build our workforce for tomorrow by linking it with apprenticeships, linking it with training, by providing contractors and unions with diversity and inclusion in the workplace training. It’s really changing how we are going to do these projects in Cape Breton.”
Meanwhile, there’s lots happening in other sectors of the local economy. The Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment has become a hotbed of biotech, or clean tech, innovation. According to centre CEO Dr. Beth Mason, the research institute located on the Cape Breton University campus is attracting some of the brightest minds in the country to an emerging sector that not everyone understands.
“So, what is clean tech? It’s either a chemical conversion or a biological conversion that links our natural resources that we have aplenty in Nova Scotia to our manufacturing sector by providing them with alternatives to petrochemical-based ingredients, products and materials,” explained Mason.
“The commonality of all these new businesses is the need for scale and for us all to collectively wrap our resources around them. We need to help the small and medium (sized) enterprises get to commercial scale and that is really critical because that is very difficult to find anywhere else in Canada.”
Many of the new businesses heading to Cape Breton find themselves working with Innovacorp, a Nova Scotia crown corporation that manages an early-stage venture capital fund.
Bob Pelley, Innovacorp’s regional manager for Cape Breton and northern Nova Scotia, said the key to local success is to be globally relevant. He noted that the two principal areas where this is possible are in feeding the world’s growing population and helping society move away from fossil fuels.
“The technologies and expertise that the Verschuren Centre has and brings to these companies that are growing is second to none. It’s truly world-class and positions Cape Breton in a really strong place to be relevant today and into the future,” said Pelley.
“What we’re doing in industrial biotech, in agri-tech, is second to none in the world, it’s not easily done in large cities and it’s not done in other parts of the world, so I see nothing but growth in that sector here.”
PUBLIC SECTOR INVESTMENT
One of the politicians representing Cape Breton is Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier and the current minister of education.
He called the multi-sector boom “fantastic” and promised that more provincial money will be flowing into Cape Breton to further stimulate the economy.
“We’re all moving in the same direction,” Mombourquette said.
“There is a lot of government investment and we’re not done yet. There are lots of amazing people in this community who have been working for years to get to this point and my sole job now as an MLA is to help them get these projects over the finish line.”