Richmond County―poised for growth

Richmond County―poised for growth

In the southwestern corner of Cape Breton Island, this small, scenic municipality charts a path to continued economic sustainability

“We’ve got it all here.”

That’s how Kent MacIntyre, the chief administrative officer for the Municipality of the County of Richmond, describes this area tucked away on the southwestern side of Cape Breton Island.

That is high praise from a man who has been involved in business development in Atlantic Canada for most of his career. MacIntyre was hired as the county’s CAO in October of 2017 after spending nine years as the general manager of the Saint John Development Corporation. He’s also operated his own construction company, been the CEO of two Nova Scotia companies, worked for the federal government, for 10 years was a part-time instructor in the Executive and Professional Development Program at Saint Mary’s University and served as deputy mayor and acting mayor of the former City of Sydney.

Born and raised in Cape Breton, he says this rural county of approximately 8,500 residents is letting the world know what it has to offer as a place to live, work and play. “Richmond County is on the move,” he says.

And part of letting the world know Richmond County is on the move, is highlighting the advantages it offers those who choose to do business here. For starters, it offers ideal transportation outlets for businesses and residents alike. It is part of the Trans-Canada Highway and connected to Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada by Highway 104. It’s adjacent to the Strait of Canso, a deep-water, ice-free harbour that can accommodate the world’s largest ships. It is home to two industrial parks and jointly shares another with the Town of Port Hawkesbury. It is within a one-and-a-half hour drive of two universities, and two Nova Scotia Community Colleges. A satellite campus of the province’s only French-speaking university is also located in the county. It is home to several of Cape Breton Island’s Acadian communities and offers a skilled, educated bilingual workforce. What’s more, residential and commercial tax rates are very attractive and real estate is extremely affordable.

When an entrepreneur is considering setting up shop in a jurisdiction, he or she must determine what the costs of doing business will be. One of those costs are taxes. In Richmond County the 2018 commercial/industrial tax rate is $2.10 per $100 assessment and the residential tax rate is $0.80 per $100 assessment. “It’s one of the better tax rates I’ve seen in years,” MacIntyre says. “We’re very attractive from an investment standpoint when taxes are a deciding factor.”

John Baguley, COO of LNG Limited, the Australian-based company looking to build a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas export terminal in the county, agrees with MacIntyre. “The county’s assessments and tax rates are very fair and reasonable” Mr. Baguley says. “The fair tax regime helps us and makes our plant competitive.”

Tupper Park

Park fever
However, tax rates aren’t the only factor business owners take into account when deciding on where to start a business. Another important factor is the availability of land. Richmond County has this in spades, and one of its key assets is the Point Tupper Heavy Industrial Park.

The park is located on the Strait of Canso, and it is in deep water, and has an ice and dredge-free harbour with superior wharf facilities. The park is a 1,600 hectare (4,000 acres) industrial zone and easily accessible to railroads. There are already several major businesses located in the park including Port Hawkesbury Paper LP, NuStar Energy, LP, Cabot Gypsum, Nova Scotia Power’s Point Tupper Generating Station and more.

Mr. MacIntyre says there are large tracts of land available in the spacious park. The Municipality has a plan in place to generate even more activity at Point Tupper. It’s re-designed and rebranded signage for the park. There is now signage on all available property, so investors can drive around the park and see what land is available. A glossy investment brochure highlights Point Tupper Heavy Industrial Park facts and features, the businesses operating there and shipping distance to markets like Belgium, Singapore, England and Brazil. “That will be used by us, the Cape Breton Partnership and Nova Scotia Business Inc.,” Mr. MacIntyre says. “We’re also looking at potential trade shows with other governments, agencies and private stakeholders, where we can aggressively seek out new tenants.”

The Point Tupper Heavy Industrial Park already has some major tenants. Port Hawkesbury Paper LP has been a major employer in Richmond County, and the entire Strait of Canso region, since it was established in 1962. Back then it was strictly a sulphite pulp mill. But within 10 years the mill added a newsprint machine and manufactured newsprint and pulp for the next 30 years. In 1998 the business expanded again by investing $850 million in a supercalendar paper machine. Today, Port Hawkesbury Paper manufactures and distributes premium paper products. “We ship about 350,000 metric tonnes of paper to over 225 printing plants located on five different continents,” says Mike Hartery, Port Hawkesbury Paper’s paper production manager.

The products range from magazines, catalogs, coupons, inserts, newspapers and direct mail advertising. The supercalendar machine has proven to be a great investment. It allows Port Hawkesbury Paper to deliver the highest quality and most efficient paper production available. The facility’s modern equipment coupled with a great management team and its highly skilled workforce make the mill one of the world’s top paper manufacturers. The mill employs 350 people and over 400 as contractors in its Woodlands unit. A recent economic impact study found that the total value of output from Port Hawkesbury Paper and its supply companies amounted to $302 million in 2017. Since the mill changed ownership in 2012, expenditures have reached over $1 billion and the mill generates over $91 million in provincial gross domestic product.

NuStar Energy, LP is another major business operating in the park. The Texasbased company is one of the largest independent terminal and pipeline operators in the U.S. and has operations in Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. At its Point Tupper site, NuStar has 37 storage tanks with a capacity to store 7.5 million barrels of product. NuStar specializes in storing petroleum products. Blaise MacDonnell, the general manager and vice-president of NuStar’s Point Tupper operations, says the company supports a variety of companies in the global petroleum industry, including some of the world’s largest oil producers and integrated oil companies, traders, refiners and petrochemical companies.

“It’s a deep-water, ice-free port that is strategically located in relation to shipping routes. Our dock has two mooring locations that can accommodate essentially all the world’s large and ultra large crude carriers,” Mr. MacDonnell says. “If you combine that with the 7.5 million barrels of storage we have on land that can store a wide range of petroleum products, that gives the terminal an advantage and enables us to compete globally.”

The terminal employs 70 people full-time, but its economic impact goes well beyond that. Mr. MacDonnell says approximately 500 direct and indirect contractors pass through NuStar’s gates annually. NuStar has long-term contracts with its clients that give it a stable future in Richmond County.

The Municipality is also promoting and working to attract new tenants to the Lennox Passage Light Industrial Park. This park, located near the community of Louisdale, currently has tenants Win-Mar and Babin’s ATV Sales and Service. To enhance the park’s attractiveness to potential clients, the Municipality is constructing a new road through the park—named Innovation Drive. The road will include water, sewer and 3-phase power services.

“It’s an $800,000-plus road and is designed so it opens up 12-14 fully-serviced lots. This creates a new revenue opportunity for us, tax base growth, and potentially new jobs with new tenants arriving,” Mr. MacIntyre says.

One of those new tenants is the Headland Cultivation Company. The Halifax-based start-up, led by David Burton and his mother and business partner Anne Wilkie, has purchased approximately 27 acres on the site. The company plans to grow and sell premium cannabis to connoisseurs and have the facility ready by June 2019. The company expects to employ approximately 60 people at first. But Burton says the plan is to expand the business in two phases and eventually employ over 100 people.

With entrepreneurs all over Canada looking to capitalize on Canada’s cannabis market, especially with recreational cannabis having become legal in October, that Headland Cultivation Company chose Richmond County as the location for its facility speaks to the area’s attractiveness as a business destination. “These folks are first class. We’ve met with them numerous times. They are excited to get going,” Warden Brian Marchand says. “They are bringing in a very professional team.”

Burton says they chose Richmond County partly because its property tax rates are “very favourable”, but he also credits the Cape Breton Partnership and the Municipality for convincing him and Wilkie to hang their shingle in the county. “All the promises they made verbally they have met,” Mr. Burton says. “The elected officials and administrative staff have delivered on their promises and it’s been the wind in our sails.”

He has also been impressed by how the Municipality and the county in general have embraced the company and what it is trying to do. He says in other jurisdictions in Canada, the cannabis industry hasn’t been as warmly received as it has been in Richmond County. “Some cannabis companies in other parts of the country don’t always have community support. But we’ve had unwavering support from council and the administrative staff here. That’s huge,” Mr. Burton says.

The economy in the area is more than just heavy industry though. Richmond County has a network of successful entrepreneurs in several sectors. It’s home to a mature group of agricultural businesses involved in cattle ranching and crop farming, and there are several forestry and timber operations. There are 574 businesses in total in Richmond County, most of them are small businesses—the backbone of any rural economy.

Tourism is a sector that has room to grow in the area. With its wide open spaces, hiking and ATV trails, beaches, variety of aquatic activities, and vibrant Acadian, Mi’kmaq, Scottish and Irish cultures, the county has several assets current operators and entrepreneurs can build on. Mr. MacIntyre says the Municipality is developing a video highlighting Richmond County as a tourism and investment destination that will be released in January, and the 2013 Richmond County Tourism Recreation Report identified exciting business opportunities focusing on local culture and heritage, coastal and waterway-based tourism, fresh seafood, local shopping, event hosting and entertainment.

Dave Morgan, president of Celtic Air Services, a new company providing aircraft and concierge services in Port Hastings (an Inverness County community a 15-minute drive west of the Inverness/Richmond County border), has seen his business jump by 30 per cent year-over-year since it opened in 2017. He says most of his first-time business is derived from golf tourism, as clients come by aircraft to the Port Hastings airport Celtic Air Services operates to golf Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses in the village of Inverness. Both golf courses have been rated among the top 100 in the world.

Mr. Morgan says the clients who make return visits to the Port Hastings airport, and there are many who do, are the ones that Richmond County tourism operators can lure to its communities. “The second and third-time visitors are ones that are interested in the entire region,” Mr. Morgan says. “They’re looking to unplug for a few days, relax and clear their head. They are looking to get out and see more of the quad counties.”

Carla Arsenault, president and CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership, also thinks the county has great potential to grow its tourism sector. “Richmond County is very much an untapped market for a number of business opportunities, including tourism, with its beautiful scenic shorelines, natural waters and spectacular seafood,” she says. “The county has incredible potential as an eco-tourism location and boater’s paradise, with its strategic location on the Bras d’Or Lake and the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere.”

Investing in communities
Investing in industrial parks is not the only way Richmond County is making strides signalling it’s open for business. It’s investing in community development as well. “During budget deliberations we’ve had several discussions with municipal council about growth in the community,” Mr. MacIntyre says. “The theme of our 2018-2019 budget is a ‘Roadmap for Growth.’ Our five councillors are all focused on economic development and community development. They want to see growth economically and in all the communities.”

The $14 million-plus budget that was approved in late April 2018 is based on growth, fiscal responsibility and municipal modernization. The Municipality is spending $1.2 million related primarily to sustainable infrastructure improvements and replacements in Richmond County, as well as investments in economic development and communications.

With numerous small communities spread out over an area that covers 1,244 square kilometres, providing quality Internet and cellular service to some of the more rural areas of the county is a priority. Warden Marchand says the Municipality is investing in improvements in cellular service infrastructure for the Fourchu-Framboise area in the eastern corner of the county. He says it is also finalizing negotiations with its neighbour to the west—Inverness County—to jointly fund, in conjunction with the provincial government, and address cellular service improvements in the Dundee-West Bay area, two communities that straddle the border of both municipalities.

The Municipality is making major investments in its waste management and water and sewer facilities to keep this vital infrastructure modern and in great working order. It has also rolled out new signage on Highway 104 to identify the boundaries of the county, and let visitors know there are several activities and things to do in Richmond County.

Municipal council is planning for its future and laying the groundwork for growth in other ways. In the fall it started a strategic planning process. Through public consultation, the process will result in the Municipality developing a strategic plan—a new Municipal Plan—developed by December. The plan will establish clearly defined actions to reach targets related to the fundamentals of growth: population, employment and tax base. “The plan will form the backbone of the next budgeting session and how we go forward,” Mr. MacIntyre says.

There’s lots to do in Richmond County like taking part in St. Peter’s annual Swim the Canal event. Photo courtesy of the Municipality of the County of Richmond.

Investing in its communities is another way to attract new businesses and residents to a jurisdiction. Mainstreet façade and revitalization programs have become an effective way to spur economic growth. The village of Arichat, located on picturesque Isle Madame, is about to do just that.

The $2-million Arichat Mainstreet Revitalization Project will be funded by the Municipality, Government of Canada and local businesses. The Municipality is investing $1 million in the project.

A designer has been hired to work with local businesses to develop and design a spectacular storefront for the village’s main street that will compliment other revitalization developments in the project. Sidewalks will be built, and street scaping will be done—new lighting, benches, waste receptacles, flower pots and other features will be placed on Arichat’s main street. Mr. MacIntyre says construction will start in the spring of 2019.

Richmond County has three commercial centres: St. Peter’s, Louisdale and Arichat. St. Peter’s and Louisdale have already completed street scaping and façade programs. The Arichat Mainstreet Revitalization Project completes the loop. A new mainstreet in Arichat has great potential to increase visitation for its commercial and retail outlets and provide an enhanced place of commerce for Isle Madame. It also adds another asset to the county to attract new businesses and residents. “If folks are going to make investments on whether they want to live in a place, work in a place or start a business, there are certain attributes that are attractive to people,” Mr. MacIntyre says. “When we have three nice areas to shop in and brag about, we’ve got something else to sell in Richmond County.”

A skilled, educated workforce
Another of Richmond County’s selling points is its people. It has a rich history and the residents here are from a multitude of cultures and heritage including Acadian, Irish, Scottish and Indigenous descent. The average age of residents is 45.7. Nearly 20 per cent of the population is under the age of 20, and 18 per cent is between the ages of 20 and 39. Over half of the population has post-secondary education and the county has over 4,000 skilled or semi-skilled workers ready to support businesses locating there. Richmond County has an ample pool of skilled workers in manufacturing, construction and retail trade, as 20 per cent of its population has completed an apprenticeship in a skilled trades occupation and 33 per cent have a university or college education.

The lifestyle one can enjoy here is something every resident of the county is quick to tout to visitors. Richmond County is made up of a network of small communities where the pace of life is slower than you’ll find in urban centres. It’s a place where people can unwind after a hard work day. These communities are safe and welcoming places where housing is available and affordable, as is land if you are choosing to build a home.

Outdoor recreational activities are abundant, whether it’s riding an ATV on one of the county’s many excellent trails, going for a hike on the St. Peter’s Coastal Trail or the Cap Auget Eco-trail on Isle Madame. The county boasts some lovely sandy beaches, such as Point Michaud near the community of L’Ardoise and Pondville Beach near D’Escousse on Isle Madame. And with the waters of the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake (it’s actually an inland sea, not a lake) lapping the northern portion of the county and the Atlantic Ocean bracketing its southern shore, the aquatic adventures one can take part in—sailing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, snorkelling, fishing, water skiing, to name a few— are impressive.

Warden Marchand points out Richmond County has outstanding police and fire protection services and the health care is good. There is one hospital and two medical centres located in the county. The education system is also excellent. There are two high schools, including one French school. The Université de Sainte- Anne’s satellite campus is in Petit de Grat on Isle Madame.

Celtic Air Services David Morgan raves about the lifestyle employees can enjoy in Richmond County and elsewhere in the Strait of Canso region. “It’s a place where your house doesn’t have to be six-and-a-half feet from your neighbour’s place. There are wide open spaces. Clean air. You can get out in a kayak or hike, all the things you can’t do in a concrete jungle,” Mr. Morgan says. “People really care about the communities they are a part of here. If you have that quality of life and a better work-life balance, employees will produce better at work.”

Premium Seafoods’ Edgar Samson, a lifelong resident of Richmond County, echoes Morgan’s views on the lifestyle you can enjoy in this scenic corner of Nova Scotia. “The county has beautiful landscapes and scenery. The communities are small enough that people know one another and continue to want to help each other. And the lifestyle of the county is somewhat laid back and the pace is slower than what you would find in a larger centre, which makes it an excellent place to live, work and raise a family,” he says.

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