By Ben Champoux
Moncton is no longer a well-kept secret! This gem on the East Coast of Canada has a fast growing population of about 150,000 people and is well known for punching well above its weight class. However, Moncton’s current success didn’t come by accident. In fact, Moncton bounced back from adversity and reinvented itself several times over the course of its history. Moncton has always been a Transportation Hub. In the first half of the 1800s, Moncton was known for its wooden shipbuilding industry conducted along the famous Petitcodiac River. In the early 1860s, the collapsed of the shipbuilding industry led to a devastating economic recession. The Westmorland Bank went bankrupted, and Moncton lost its incorporated status. Moncton’s prosperity and economic growth bounced back in the early 1870s when Intercolonial Railway of Canada selected the community for its headquarters. The arrival of the Intercolonial Railway of Canada gave hope to citizens of Moncton. In 1875, Moncton adopted its motto RESURGO, latin for ‘I rise again’. The emergence of the railway industry went on to fuel Moncton's economic growth for more than a century.
Moncton faced adversity once again in the late 1980s when the Canadian National Railway (CNR) locomotive shops closed its operations as the main employer in the community. Other large employers soon followed in the CNR’s decision to close shop. By 1990, more than half the downtown was vacant and the unemployment rate in Moncton was well above 20 percent. Most cities would have given up. However, the leaders of the community took their destiny into their own hands, once again. As the saying goes, the rest is history. Over the 25 years that followed, Moncton transformed itself from a blue-collar manufacturing town with an uncertain future to one of the most diversified economies and fastest growing urban centres in Canada. Today, Moncton is the fifth fastest growing urban centre in the country, number one east of Saskatoon. This 25-year transformation is known around the world as the Moncton Miracle. Over that 25-year period, Moncton leveraged its bilingual workforce, the rise of the Services Economy around the world, and world-class fibre infrastructure to position itself as the Hub City of the Maritime Provinces.
The hard work paid off. In 2009, the Intelligent Community Forum (www.intelligentcommunity.org) recognized Moncton as one of the Top-7 Intelligent Communities in the world as a result of that collaborative leadership and innovative transformation. But the world has not seen anything yet. Moncton is now in a unique position to raise its brand from the Hub City of the Maritime Provinces to the transatlantic hub of goods and services (including data and knowledge) between the European Union (EU) and North America. There are several key factors in place to support that bold statement:
First, from a pure geographical standpoint, Moncton is indeed the Hub between the EU and North America, as Moncton is the closest North American point to Europe on the main land, and basically half way between the West Coast of North America and Europe.
Second, to become a transatlantic hub for the Goods Economy, a community needs to be connected by air. The Greater Moncton International Airport (GMIA) is already a catalyst fuelling the development of an international Air Cargo industry. Three years ago, GMIA invested $24 million to extend the airport’s main runway from 6,500 to 10,000 feet. Now, the main runway can welcome the largest air cargo carriers in the world. Furthermore, Moncton is already well known as a Transportation & Logistics hub, being home of some of the largest trucking companies in Canada and top-notch highway infrastructure. Those key investments in strategic infrastructure combined with a world-class trucking and logistics industry will pay off for the many decades to come. The positive impact is already being felt, as other major private investments are in place at and around the GMIA, with more to come.
Third, to become a transatlantic hub for the Services Economy, the name of the game is also to be connected, but through fibre. That is precisely why the Fibre Centre opened for business in Moncton in February 2015 after many years of hard work (www.fibrecentre.com). The Fibre Centre is another perfect example that reflects Moncton’s can-do attitude, its determination to never sit on its laurels and take its success for granted. The Fibre Centre is a neutral co-location facility, or Carrier Hotel, that positions Moncton as the Fibre Hub between the EU and North America. The Fibre Centre is the game-changing facility that will allow key public and private sector players to leverage the international terrestrial and submarine communications cable systems of world-class companies such as Hibernia and F6 Networks (www.f6networks.ca) to be better connected to their clients in all of Canada, the United States, Europe and the world!
The Fibre Centre is to the Services & Knowledge-based Economies of the community what the Greater Moncton International Airport is to Moncton’s Goods Economy: a neutral junction point that improves connectivity and by default, facilitates and accelerates the transfer of services, data and knowledge. The presence and role of the Fibre Centre in Moncton are already paying off at positioning Moncton as the Services Economy Hub between the EU and North America.
In the fall of 2015, the international gaming laboratory BMM Testlabs (www.bmm.com) announced the creation of 1,000 new jobs in Moncton over five years. This represents the most important job creation announcement in the history of the Province of New Brunswick. BMM delivers services in 400 jurisdictions around the world, and chose Moncton has one of their main international points of service. There is no doubt that BMM will benefit significantly from Moncton’s world-class fibre infrastructure. More importantly, many others will soon follow into BMM's footsteps. Ironically, Moncton’s vibrant railway industry over 100+ years has a lot of to do with its current reputation as an international fibre hub. In today’s broadband economy, rights of way are the name of the game. From a rights of way perspective, the path of least resistance for companies to expand their terrestrial communications cable systems is to follow railways. Guess who used to be a railway hub? Indeed, who would have thought that the rise of the railway industry in the late 1800s would have a priceless and unexpected impact on Moncton’s long-term transformation into one of the top-intelligent cities in the world?
Fourth, the coming into force of the historic Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union will only accelerate the pace at which Moncton becomes the transatlantic hub between the EU and North America. Moncton was not strategically located within the North-South trading corridor under NAFTA. However, the international trading pattern will soon also include a major East-West Corridor between the EU and North America, with Moncton sitting right in the middle. All the ingredients are in place for Moncton to become the Trans-Atlantic Hub of Goods and Services between the EU and North America. The next chapter of Moncton’s history will also reinforce its reputation as a leader and catalyst for economic growth in all of the Maritime Provinces. In short, the future looks bright! The transformation of Moncton over the past 150 years is a remarkable story. But the best has yet to come! The Moncton Miracle 2.0 is already in motion and unstoppable. Indeed, Moncton is poised to ‘rise again’.
Ben Champoux is a Founding Board Member of ICF Canada.