What opportunities are knocking in Corner Brook?

Steve Bartlett
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Role as service centre, college among potential bright spots; new investment needed

Neville Greeley, the mayor of Corner Brook, believes the city is doing everything it can to diversify the economy. Pictured is Corner Brook’s new city hall.— Photo by Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star

Second in a two-part series

Read Part 1 here

The future of their paper mill might be flickering a little, but a lot of people in Corner Brook still believe their future is bright.

“People want to see (this city) grow and prosper,” says Kevin Vincent, who opened Newfound Sushi in March.

Montreal-based Kruger is assessing the viability of its Corner Brook mill after workers there rejected a pension restructuring proposal.

If the plant closes, the province estimates 1,700 job losses, roughly 630 from mill operations and the rest in spinoff jobs.

Dennis Bruce, a Corner Brook-based economist, has done some math, and if the mill shut down, he figures 4,000 fewer people would be working in the city than less than a decade ago.

“So the mill closure would not make Corner Brook a ghost town, but it would really, really hurt,” Bruce writes in an email.

But what’s being done to diversify the economy, which would ease some of pain?  What opportunities are facing the west coast city?


Looking to become college town

Many who spoke with The Telegram suggested focusing on Corner Brook’s role as a regional service centre. Bruce considers that a core strength.

Almost everyone interviewed pointed to Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial’s Corner Brook campus.

In fact, becoming a college town is a plank the city government is trying to build the economy on.

Mayor Neville Greeley thinks the place could become like Antigonish or Wolfville, the Nova Scotia towns that are home to St. Francis Xavier and Acadia, respectively.

“Those opportunities are there for Corner Brook,” Greeley says. “Certainly, Memorial’s tuition rates and the expanding of programs, all those things, the direction Memorial is going, the direction the Grenfell campus is going, all of those things are key for us in diversifying the economy.”

Tom Marshall, MHA for Humber East and the province’s finance minister, believes Grenfell could become one of the country’s best liberal arts schools.

Becoming a college town is part of City Hall’s four-pronged plan. It also includes land development, cultural enterprise and becoming an innovative city.

The latter involves developing entrepreneurs and attracting new business. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s an area where Corner Brook needs to pull up its socks, according to some.

Last October, a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report on the country’s entrepreneurial cities report ranked Corner Brook 95th out of 100.

“Obviously, more needs to be done to make Corner Brook an entrepreneurial city,” the CFIB’s Bradley George says.

He notes only two per cent of those surveyed thought their city government had a good awareness of small business. The majority thought taxes were too high, he adds.

Greeley doesn’t agree with the CFIB ranking and questions the findings.

He says the city is doing all it can to create taxation, infrastructure and amenities that are attractive to businesses and their employees.

He adds council has compressed the city’s businesses taxes.

George acknowledges that, but suggests taxation is still too high.

“Really, what our members told us is that local government needs to be more sensitive to local business,” he says.

Others have questioned the innovative spirit in Corner Brook residents.

In April 2011, Rob Greenwood of the Memorial University’s Harris Centre boldly told the Humber Rotary Club attitude appears to be an obstacle.

He lumped the Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor together, and said, “because they were mill towns, have a particular social stratum, perception and culture that is an impediment to innovation.”

Bruce, the economist, points to another issue facing Corner Brook.

He says there’s been an exodus of private money in recent years — the closing of a gypsum plant, Oceanex pulling out, and the slowdown at Humber Valley Resort — but no new private investment has replaced it.

“On top of that, Statistics Canada data reveals Corner Brook is one of the oldest communities by far in the province (of places of similar size) with over a third of homeowners being senior citizens and that amount is growing, so resident spending will continue to slow as well,” he writes.

Bruce, who notes strong provincial investment in Corner Brook in recent years, says people shouldn’t expect anything from Ottawa in the near to medium term.

“They’re pulling out too,” he writes.

However, Keith Goulding, president of the Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade, includes new money from Ottawa as one of the opportunities heading Corner Brook’s way.

He feels the newly established Qalipu First Nation Band will attract millions in federal investment to the west coast, as programs, like one for aboriginal entrepreneurs, are established.

“So that’s a new area of growth you’re going to see happening in the Corner Brook area in next year or two,” says Goulding, whose day job is with Qalipu.

The business leader is optimistic about the city’s future. He sees opportunities for business in supplying the proposed Lower Churchill development, in shipping, and in tourism.

As well, Goulding sees potential for Corner Brook businesses in St. John’s. He says the Avalon economy is booming and there’s work there for Corner Brook firms.

The amount of activity in St. John’s and across the province helped Grand Falls-Windsor after the Abitibi-Bowater mill closed three years ago.

Mayor Al Hawkins says fabrication shops that depended on the mill thrived on all the construction taking place in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“They were able to not downsize, but actually increase their numbers,” he says.

Grand Falls-Windsor is often used as an example of life after pulp.

Hawkins’ says things are “chugging along,” with all economic indicators looking positive and adds the town didn’t experience an economic lull after the mill closed.

Luckily, he explains, there was an alignment of the stars — Ottawa’s stimulus program, the region’s entry into the cranberry industry, and provincial assistance for displaced workers.

“A lot of things really happened that you wouldn’t really fell the full impact of an industry the magnitude of the pulp and paper industry closing. We were fortunate in being able to weather that storm as well as we did.”

His advice to Corner Brook — “Be positive.”


Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Organizations: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Kruger Harris Centre Humber Rotary Club Humber Valley Resort Statistics Canada Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade Qalipu First Nation Band

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Nova Scotia, Acadia Humber East Ottawa Avalon Newfoundland and Labrador Grand Falls

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Recent comments

  • elizabeth
    June 06, 2012 - 09:08

    CB has such amazing potential and it's sad to see and hear all the emphasis placed on exporting industries. Our waterfront should be cleaned up and developed for IMPORTING tourists and the whole tourism trade. Image seeing a waterfront filled with small businesses and a boardwalk with access to some of the nicest real estate on the west coast. CB needs a fresh vision and the old boys club needs to see this or vanish into the fog of antiquity.

  • nat
    May 29, 2012 - 17:11

    I guess the big deal being made about the mill being closed in the Telegram, is because what other business is there in Corner Brook with high paying jobs. Excluding the Government positions. Everything else is pretty close to much minimum wage. There will be more than mill jobs lost. The mill closes, then there are the spin off jobs, when all the other businesses slow down. Will I guess it's off to Alberta for many. At least Alberta has lower taxes, northern living allowance, and higher paying wages at Mc Donalds and Tim's. Oh not to mention nicer homes for cheaper in Grande Prairie....Yes Newfoundland is just being run sooooo wrong. The only ones getting ahead is the government, as they steal from our pockets...

  • Jack
    May 29, 2012 - 06:36

    Although the education sector is one of Corner Brook largest employers, especially with Memorial University - Grenfell Campus, College of the North Atlantic, and Academy Canada, relying solely on education alone will not make up for the substantial job losses Corner Brook faces. To add insult to injury, Corner Brook doesn't have adequate student accommodations or residences to support growth in their education sector, and that has to be addressed if their post secondary institutions want to increase enrollment. Secondly, the compensation levels at their post-secondary institutions are much lower than in the pulp and paper mill, especially Academy Canada. In the case of Academy Canada, while their staff and instructors are hard working and dedicated individuals, the big weakness for Academy Canada is that their staff are grossly underpaid compared to Grenfell Campus or CONA and can't afford to be independent, resulting in high staff turnover. In fact, they are often paid close to minimum wage. While education is an important sector, Corner Brook has to diversify its economy in other sectors such as Accounting, Finance, Information Technology, Engineering, or Bio Technology companies.

  • Paul
    May 28, 2012 - 22:57

    I have to wonder whether Neville Greeley has ever been to Wolfville or Antigonish or has a clear picture of either community. While both are great college towns they each have population of less than 4300 residents and far fewer working residents once retirees and those commuting to other communities are excluded. Scary to think that Corner Brook might resemble either one in a few years time.

  • george p b
    May 28, 2012 - 20:10

    Corner Brook is in dire straits. Whether the mill closes or not!!! The three biggest employers are government--hospital, college, & government agencies. Corner Brook & towns like it across Canada & USA are going nowhere unless somebody is "putting product out the door". The mill is a "dead man walking"... I say do not let Kruger leave w/o paying their pensioners properly, nor should they not clean up the mill site to environmental standards. Else Joe Kruger goes to jail... I wish I had a solution, but a system wherein all the employers are government entities is financially an impossible proposition....

  • Jack
    May 28, 2012 - 14:02

    As a Corner Brook area resident, I don't think that high taxes alone are responsible for the city's poor economic growth, but also poor business climate, too much political red tape, and a xenophobic population that seems unwilling to shop at any business that is not Corner Brooker owned or operated. Let's take for example, the proposed modular home plant that will create hundreds of jobs. The City of Corner Brook used every single excuse in the book not to allow Mr. Griffin to implement a plant in Corner Brook, but in the end, Mr. Griffin was given a go-ahead to start a modular home plant. In the case of a xenophobic population, the City of Corner Brook has had a difficult time attracting new big box stores or major restaurant chain over the last five years. As a result, Corner Brook is losing out to other communities with similar population levels in Canada such as New Glasgow or Truro areas. To add insult to injury, Pasadena and Deer Lake are growing fiercely competitive against Corner Brook as they are taking more businesses away from the city. In the case of Deer Lake, the main reason is they have a more pleasant business climate and less red tape than Corner Brook. If Corner Brook needs to grow, they have to not only lower taxes, but also create a more welcoming and less restrictive business climate or they will become a ghost city.

  • peter barry
    May 28, 2012 - 11:37

    well mr marshall we are still waiting for grenfell to become what it was promised.we all know that promise was an election ploy.because that promise was never filled.the new hospital which was another promise was suppose to be open by 2015 2016 and now 2018 which hasnt even gone to tender yet and it is 2012

  • Nat
    May 28, 2012 - 11:34

    The land and housing is way over priced. The Avalon is booming and houses are the same price as in Corner Brook and Pasadena ????????? People buying there will end up losing their shirts because the housing market has to drop at some point. Students nor seniors are going to chuck $400000 for a house. I love Corner Brook, and Pasadena. We really want to mo ve back there, but we just can't see paying the same for a house in a Town that struggles, as a town that is booming.....

    • David
      May 28, 2012 - 11:46

      Newfoundlanders are not exactly geniuses when it comes to money, especially now in the era of 'monthly payment' consuming. All of rural Newfoundland (ie the non-Avalon) will be entertaining to observe when rates go up and the RE market goes very, very, VERY bust. And for CB specifically, it's not like this mill death watch comes as some sort of super big secret, surely!? It will be one of the most devasted, yet largely unnoticed and unreported such markets in Canada. Congratulations everyone...I can hear even more whining about Harper now.

  • Ronald Peters
    May 28, 2012 - 11:27

    Ya,these numbers are definately not close to the correct number of employees that are living in Corner Brook.The total number of employees is under 400,twenty five of which work at Deer Lake Power,Of the other 300 or so, there are employees living up the northern peninsula,and all over the west coast.Most of the woodlands employees are living outside of Corner Brook.If the number of employees,actually living in Corner Brook was known,it would be a lot closer to 200,which is no more than either of the fish plants that have closed in the past six months and we havent seen any government handouts going their way.

  • Artie
    May 28, 2012 - 11:13

    The numbers stated above are very misleading and inaccurate. I would love to know how these experts come up with this crap. There was a time when Corner Brook was completely dependent on the strength of the mill, but over several decades that dependence has almost disappeared. The mill is not a backbone in our economy. It use to be. It is no longer responsible for the bulk of high wages in Corner Brook. It use to be. Times change, industry changes, and the way people think has also changed; however, some things never change. Greed and stupidity displayed by union leaders, puppet-like responses by staff to bad leader decisions, and the idiot economists who get most things wrong to start with, are still doing things the wrong way and are only making sure that the picture they paint is one of doom and gloom. Truth is, the staff and union leaders have no one to blame but themselves. If the mill closes a few hundred jobs will be lost, but it will likely end there. All the same bad information was floating around during the pending closures of the mills in Grand Falls Windsor, and Stephenville. The speculation for these towns was very bleak, but after the closures, the people in those towns realized that the mill was no longer their backbone either so the result, is GFW, and Stephenville, both enjoying some prosperous times. All that had to happen was to close their respective mills. I really wish the Corner Brook mill would soon close. Maybe then, Corner Brookers will enjoy the same prosperity that the other towns now enjoy.

  • Shakin His Head
    May 28, 2012 - 10:44

    if Corner Brook continues under the leadership of Greey Greely and his Minions..the only Corner brook wil be is a Ghost Town!!!!!!!

  • David
    May 28, 2012 - 09:48

    The new City Hall in corner Brook is a monument to the vision and economic drive of the city. It not only has none, but it resents anything associated with 'evil and greedy' private enterprise --- and the top of the hate list has quite predictably been the mill. Corner Brook residents all hope to dip their own beaks in the taxpayer trough with any kind of government job or position which have grown incredibly since 'the Saint' graced us with his existence. The henchmen at City Hall don't even understand yet how absolutely shocking and disgusting their "investment" in their own palacial offices is, while the entire town around them is in advanced decay. It is Saddam-esque.

  • It Don't Add Up
    May 28, 2012 - 08:25

    The article says "If the plant closes, the province estimates 1,700 job losses, roughly 630 from mill operations and the rest in spinoff jobs.". Corner Brook Pulp and Paper's own website says there are fewer jobs at the mill, 400 and spread between the mill and the Deer Lake Power Company. Looks like some pretty massive multipliers being used here. The reference to the comment by a local economist is only adding to the confusion. "if the mill shut down, he figures 4,000 fewer people would be working in the city than less than a decade ago". That's a useless statistic. How many of that 4,000 are already gone - maybe 2,000 or 3,000. It's a scare statistic.

    • bruce totally ignored BY US OUT HERE
      May 28, 2012 - 09:56

      this bruce fellow just as bright as his brother on city council; what's going on here; why is stjohns reporter doing story on little crumbling city of cbrook; or as fellow from TSN called us during 1999 winter games - "A FISHING VILLAGE"; so whats next a reporter from western star; doing story on paradise growing by leaps and bounds; WHAT IS BIG DEAL; gypsum plant closed; brookfield icecream closed; Nlfd farm products closed; north star cement closed; why such big interest in cbrook now from the city of legends daily paper; the telegram; u are a dollar short and few years 5/10 to late; thanks for the late interest