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Letter: St. John’s city council: take a lesson from Virginia

Six RONA locations in Newfoundland and Labrador are slated to close Jan. 27, 2019 This one on O’Leary Avenue in St. John’s is one of them.
Six RONA locations in Newfoundland and Labrador are slated to close Jan. 27, 2019 This one on O’Leary Avenue in St. John’s is one of them. - Joe Gibbons

I would hope that the recent announcement by Lowes to close six Rona stores, a regional support center, and a truss plant, all in an around St. John’s will serve as a wake-up call to the mayor and city council of St. John’s. If it is the goal of this body to serve the residents of the city, then it is imperative for them, to pro-actively foster a pro-business, pro-growth environment, and it is the responsibility of the citizens of St. John’s to demand this of their elected representatives.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a U.S. citizen, and resident of Washington, D.C., (I will take the opportunity here to apologize for our president), and as a result some may question my interests.

In fact, I have strong ties to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and in particular to the City of St. John’s, which has been home to my family since the mid 1800’s, the birthplace of my Mother in 1918, and the marriage of my parents in 1945.

As a result, from my office in D.C., I monitor the news out of St. John’s on a daily basis.

In my opinion, the future the city and of the province has never looked brighter. Petroleum is still one of the most valuable commodities traded throughout the world, and given the finding from recent oil and gas assessments, the province is one of the most promising oil and gas regions, providing solid motivation for international energy company to consider investments in the province.

Additionally, although I recognize this to be a contentious issue, the investment by the current generation in reliable energy for the future generations, represents an invaluable investment in the future of the province.

As a business person, who has been active in the economic development of the Washington, D.C. region for the past 30 years, I am afforded a unique perspective given the regional composition of our metropolitan area, which is comprised of two states, Virginia and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia, each with separate and distinct personalities and character traits.

Over the past 30 years we have watched as the three jurisdictions have vied to attract business to the region, along with the incredibly valuable tax base, which afford us the financial resources necessary to invest in schools, recreational facility and most importantly, infrastructure.

To contrast the Lowes announcement, major metropolitan areas throughout the United States, have been competing to attract a proposed new headquarters for the online retail and tech company Amazon. Interestingly, the D.C. region has three separate competitors: D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and while each remains a viable option, as the final announcement nears, it is, to no-one’s surprise, that Northern Virginia has been identified as the logical choice in our region.

Virginia has historically differentiated itself by fostering a pro-business environment, and in the process, attracting businesses and their taxes, allowing for investment in schools, infrastructure and providing well-paying jobs which has resulted in the region becoming one of the most attractive for millennial in-migration.

Given socio-economic trends, including an aging population and out-migration of young people, St. John’s city council, would do well to learn from the Northern Virginia Counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington, and Alexandria, in creating a climate of collaboration with the business and development community, to foster an environment for the benefit of economic development.

The St. John’s city council should be focused on building a region where the local economy supports the existence of the RONA stores, regional support center and truss plant.

I find it incredibly disheartening, to see the number of young people, specifically in our large extended family, who have left Newfoundland for employment in other Canadian provinces. For this trend to be reversed, which it must, begins at a grass roots level, with the mayor and city council for St. John’s creating an environment that fosters investment in the community.

If the current council is unable to figure out how to create such an environment, then I would suggest the citizens of St. John’s identify candidates who can, as the future of the province depends on it.

Michael McCarthy

Washington, D.C.

Related story:

Mark Vaughan-Jackson: Counting the cost of RONA closures in Newfoundland

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