Councillor says prosperity is paving the way for future generations
City of St. John’s Ward 3 Coun. Bruce Tilley, chairman of the capital city’s economic development, tourism and culture committee, holds the city’s latest economic report on Cape Spear Drive Monday afternoon with the city’s downtown core in the background. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
A St. John’s councillor finds it hard to contain his pride when he discusses the prosperity the region is experiencing.
Armed with the latest economic outlook for the St. John’s metro region (which includes neighbouring communities), Coun. Bruce Tilley flips though pages of the document quoting statistics that paint a positive picture for metro and the many sectors that drive a healthy economy.
“Retail trade is up. Personal income is up. We’ve had the largest increase in median family income (among major Canadian cities between 2006 and 2010) of more than $15,000. Total employment is gone up by 10,000 jobs over the past three years. And St. John’s share of the total provincial (gross domestic product) is about 50 per cent,” he beamed Monday.
“I don’t think people realize this,” Tilley told The Telegram.
Developed twice a year by city staff, the State of the Economy report outlines several projects in St. John’s underway at a cost of more than $500 million (not all projects are listed,) ranging from the construction of new hotels and office buildings to upgrades at St. John’s International Airport and the expansion of the St. John’s Convention Centre.
This type of development alone will put the city in a different ball game, says the chairman of Destination St. John’s.
“It’s going to create a bit of a different market for us,” said Larry Laite.
“(It will) open markets that we couldn’t get into previously because the centre wasn’t big enough. The market right now is thriving from a hoteliers perspective,” he said, adding there are groups who have bookings for the convention centre as soon as it is finished.
Tilley said the tendering deal states that the expansion has to be complete by Dec. 31, 2015.
Laite says Tilley is not blowing the city’s prosperity out of proportion and the completion of the convention centre will help create a destination to be reckoned with.
“We’re in a time that is unprecedented for us,” he said.
“The expansion was kind of like a double-edged sword, though. You need the bigger space to attract the bigger conventions and with the bigger space you need the additional (hotel) capacity,” he said.
Council and developers are attempting to solve the low vacancy rate with the construction of several hotels over the next year or two.
“That is the reason why we went flat out with the encouragement for the hotels to be built,” said Tilley, adding once they are complete the city should be able to accommodate the near-zero vacancy rate visitors experience at peak times in the city.
Tilley says billion-dollar projects such as the Hebron offshore oil development, the Lower Churchill project, the South White Rose extension and the Iron Ore Co. of Canada mine expansion in Labrador all make significant investments in the province and boost the local economy.
“If it weren’t for these developments around the province, many of the St. John’s-based services and supplies that are here, the offshoots of the oil and gas and mining industries wouldn’t be here, and the impact of having them here is significant and instrumental to the city’s development,” he said.
Tilley said it is the spinoffs from these projects that have allowed the city to invest in its own projects, upgrade old infrastructure and make improvements to parks — all of which have helped cast a different light on the city to the world.
“Perceptions are changing and everyone can see it,” he said.
“For many years, the city of St. John’s wasn’t looked at as a key city in Canada. Now it is one of the top cities in the country with lots of things going on in the economy, and the quality of life can’t be touched.
“So all of these things have been able to be enhanced and are continuing to be enhanced with the help of industry and spinoffs,” Tilley said.
It is the construction projects generated indirectly from the mining and oil and gas projects that are helping the city maintain a positive outlook in the eyes of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC).
Fred Bergman is senior policy analyst with APEC.
He told The Telegram Monday a review of the economic indicators for the city showed employment was down slightly in March — 0.9 per cent — but it is still early in the year.
“It was a little bit of a slowdown there, but if you have a tough winter in the city it can slow employment growth. But once the snow melts and things thaw and construction starts, employment starts to pick up again,” said Bergman.
One of the indicators Tilley and the city’s report identified as being positive is the fact the region recorded its 11th consecutive population increase.
More than 28,000 people have moved into the metro region since 1986.
Bergman said the population growth looks fairly positive.
“People moving to urban areas creates an economy in and of itself, like a self-sustaining economy, and when you got a strong income growth in the mining, gas and oil sectors that’s going to lead to strong wages, which leads to strong retail sales and a lot of spinoffs from that, which is showing up in the housing market,” he said.
All of this, Tilley added, makes for a healthy, vibrant city not only for the people living in it today, but for their children.
“From our perspective it’s the jobs. There have been so many people leaving, but there’s so much activity now and in the future there will be an opportunity to keep our young people here,” he said.
“I think when you look at all of this you have to look at it from a young person’s perspective as well.
“Is there a future for a young person in this city? Yes, a tremendous future,” Tilley said.