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Holyrood makes a big play in ocean technology sector

The hope is that the Oceans Holyrood Initiative will one day make the Conception Bay community a world leader in the blue economy. Pictured, from the left, are town CAO Gary Corbett, economic development officer Marjorie Gibbons and Mayor Gary Goobie.
The hope is that the Oceans Holyrood Initiative will one day make the Conception Bay community a world leader in the blue economy. Pictured, from the left, are town CAO Gary Corbett, economic development officer Marjorie Gibbons and Mayor Gary Goobie. - Andrew Robinson

Town has a long-term vision to position itself as a world leader in the blue economy

HOLYROOD, N.L.

There’s a considerable asset in the harbour of Holyrood, and the town is doing what it can to make that asset a major component of its long-term prosperity.

The Marine Institute’s Holyrood Marine Base, the site of the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology, has only been in existence for about a decade.

“When the Marine Institute came here and set up that facility, it was at that point when we realized the significance of our harbour and what benefit our harbour can have in the future,” Mayor Gary Goobie told The Compass.

The Marine Institute’s Holyrood Marine Base, home of the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology, served as a major catalyst for the creation of the Oceans Holyrood Initiative. The marine base first opened in 2010. — Photo courtesy of the Marine Institute
The Marine Institute’s Holyrood Marine Base, home of the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology, served as a major catalyst for the creation of the Oceans Holyrood Initiative. The marine base first opened in 2010. — Photo courtesy of the Marine Institute

The base opened in 2010, and until then there was not a whole lot of awareness within the town office of ocean technology and marine science. But, through discussions with officials at the Marine Institute, an understanding emerged of why exactly Holyrood was chosen as the site for the marine base — built on the planks of the province’s first cold storage site.

“Holyrood harbour is the most southern point that the Labrador current comes,” explained Holyrood chief administrative officer Gary Corbett, who started working for the town in 2009. For research and testing of ocean technology designed for the artic, Holyrood’s harbour is an ideal location.

“If you’re going to test a sensor in Holyrood, you can go out the shoreline with one-metre depth of water. You can go out to the midway point in the harbour itself at 12 fathoms of water, and you can go out at the head in 100 metres of water,” Corbett said. “So, in terms of people testing prototypes and things like that, Holyrood is a natural testbed fit.”

With that in mind, Holyrood’s town council is taking a multi-faceted approach to making it a destination for ocean technology as a means to foster economic growth for decades to come.

“We are laying the groundwork for the future,” Corbett said.

The Oceans Holyrood Initiative (OHI) was launched in 2013. Its goal is to position the town as a centre for oceans-related commerce, applied research, training and education. Basically, Holyrood wants to be a major player in what’s known internationally as the blue economy – that is, industry built on the sustainable use of the ocean's resources.

Since 2013, the town has invested money in the project, attracted even more funding from both the provincial and federal governments, built connections with industry players and post-secondary institutions, engaged in planning work to identify land for companies and encouraged startups to make their home in Holyrood.

“This is not a business,” Goobie cautioned. “It’s a growing industry. This is the future of the community, with economic growth and development.”

When not engaged in other important town matters of a day-to-day nature, Corbert and the town’s economic development officer, Marjorie Gibbons, are spearheading OHI, with considerable input from Goobie and the rest of council.

Newfoundland’s place

Within the ocean technology industry, Newfoundland and Labrador is already in a good position. The industry’s importance at a global level is also considerable.

“Ocean based industries are expected to double their contribution to the global economy by 2030 to $3 trillion, including 40 million full-time jobs,” Corbett said. “Newfoundland leads Atlantic Canada in ocean technology opportunities right now.”

The value of cold-water research is particularly vital when it comes to potential activity down the road in Arctic waters.

“We envision that in the next few years, we’re going to see a tremendous increase in activity in Holyrood as it relates to the oceans industry." – Holyrood Mayor Gary Goobie

“All the countries of the world that border on the Arctic are looking at the value of the Arctic,” Corbett said.

At the marine base, a $25-million expansion is planned, featuring a new building similar in size to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers property on Liam Hickey Drive. It would include classrooms, workshops, labs, public engagement and collaborative spaces for faculty, students and industrial partners.

Goobie expects this development will draw more eyes to Holyrood, attracting students, researchers and industry experts.

“We envision that in the next few years, we’re going to see a tremendous increase in activity in Holyrood as it relates to the oceans industry,” the mayor said. “And with that, we can see the possibility of business spinoffs from that, and the opportunities will be boundless.”

Planning work

Through land-use planning, the town has set up three centres for targeted development. Holyrood Oceana is billed as a cold-oceans research and innovation hub. Fifty acres of land is available behind the new Orange Store and Tim Hortons outlet on Liam Hickey Drive. The town has an agreement in place for a developer to purchase the land, and the town hopes to have a road in place for phase one of development before the end of 2019.

“We’ve lost one opportunity with a Norwegian company because we weren’t ready, and we’ve got another company now who [are] looking to be the major tenant,” Corbett said. “Our goal is to create a cluster of ocean technology companies that will start to grow a cluster in that research park.”

Then there’s the Blue Ocean Industrial Park. The town is currently closing in on the legal transfer of that 50-acre property to a developer.

“That could grow to thousands of acres,” Corbett said, noting an arrangement was made last year with oil and gas heavyweight Halliburton to use 72 acres of land. Another company is presently looking at setting up shop there for 20 acres. A minimum of five buildings are due to pop up in the industrial park this year, with more pending.

The Stores at Holyrood, a 20-acre commercial development, came to be after the town worked with the owners of the long-dormant rubber plant to finalize its sale to a developer.

“If the Marine Institute is bringing all these people in here — all these researchers, some students, all this type of stuff, companies coming — they need access to retail,” Corbett said.

One planning element that the town still needs to solidify is its spatial planning for docking spaces, marinas and wharfs. That works ties into the next Northeast Avalon Regional Plan, which remains in development.

Startups

Within its municipal building, the town has set up The Beachhead Innovation Center and Suites, which rents office space to entrepreneurs just getting started. There are currently 11 companies occupying the building, with another on the way. Beyond serving as a landlord, the town has offered support to those businesses by identifying potential investors and grant opportunities.

“One of them has six employees, and another has three,” said Corbett.

The town hosted a startup weekend each of the last two years, events that fostered entrepreneurial spirit. One startup that came into existence at the 2017 event has since purchased land in Holyrood.

Through trade shows and other events, the town has made a lot of connections in the United States and Ireland, and there is an eagerness to reach out to Norway, a very important country in the European oil and gas sector.

"...we want to become the leading cold-ocean oceanography site in the world.” — Gary Corbett

Helping the town to build these connections, the federal and provincial governments announced last December a total of $231,000 in funding to support OHI’s plans for attending oceans-related trade events and developing specific OHI promotional resources, as well as creating a social media strategy and an interactive business map.

“They’ve been with us along this whole journey so far,” Goobie said. “They’re been very supportive … They get it and they know we’re moving in the right direction for all the right reasons because again, it boils down to regional economic diversification.”

A model the town looks to for inspiration can be found in Woods Hole. Located in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, it’s the site of several marine science institutions, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In the middle of the 20th century, there was very little in the way of activity around Woods Hole, but now that place is a hub for research on warm-water climates.

“Woods Hole right now is the leading oceanography centre in the universe,” Corbett said. “Now, we don’t want to displace Woods Hole. But we want to become the leading cold-ocean oceanography site in the world.”


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