Montague doubles jobs lost to federal cutbacks

Economic engine in Kings County capital, stoked by the private sector, is starting to fire on all pistons

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 31, 2014

Juice Box operators Rob Arthur and Jana Furness take orders from customers at their Montague café.

©Guardian graphic

MONTAGUE — Mixing up a kale smoothie at the newest cafe here, owner Jana Furness knows when the economic juice is flowing.

She opened last fall and trudged through one of the worst winters in years, but the customers kept coming.

And while she knows her menu is attractive, she also knows that job growth and new companies have popped up in eastern P.E.I. like tulips.

“Every month seemed to increase and I know we serve popular food, but so many customers coming in were new faces,’’ says Furness, who operates the Juice Box on Main Street. “There’s no question there are is a big increase in jobs nowadays.”

Chamber of Commerce president Chris Nicholson says it’s a welcome trend after federal cutbacks clawed away almost 70 well paid positions over the past two years. And, he notes, the majority of new jobs filtering into the region are private sector.

“Farming and fishing will always be a large part of our economy here, but having other industries in eastern P.E.I. is ever more important to ensure economic stability,” says Nicholson.

As he chows down on his gluten-free hamburger platter this week, Innovation Minister Al Roach can’t help but feel a little more guilt free. He’s taking nothing for granted, but the rookie MLA and cabinet minister is pretty keen on new provincial statistics — especially in his own riding.

Two years ago the air was bleeding out of the economic tire here when the federal government announced it was closing two government operations. The feds announced the closure of the EI claims processing operation and the Addictions Research Centre along the waterfront. It meant the loss of 69 jobs and the loss of an easy $4 million payroll for the eastern P.E.I. region.

“All of a sudden sales just fell off, even in staples like food,” said one store manager. “You could feel the loss.”

But the economic engine here, stoked by the private sector, is starting to fire on all pistons.

In fact, Roach is quite happy to announce that all those lost jobs have not only been replaced in the past six months — but have doubled.

“We’ve actually almost doubled the number of jobs now that were taken away by the feds,’’ he says munching on his salad. “I’ve always wanted to make Montague the economic hub it is meant to be, and I’m glad we’re seeing some results.”

Roach applauds the private sector incentive and enthusiasm for striking out in the lean times, but confirms the province has been there to provide some type of backing.

“The minister is absolutely correct on this,’’ says Mayor Richard Collins, who isn’t playing politics. “I’ve visited and toured every site first hand and these new jobs are thanks to government investment working with the private sector ... I say keep it coming.”

Collins points to Aspin Kemp Enterprises that has relocated its corporate headquarters from Owen Sound, Ontario to Montague. There were 26 head office positions and only one employee is making the move from Ontario, which means 25 new positions being filled to work at the former Addictions Research Centre in Montague.

Aspin Kemp production centre at Poole’s Corner now has 60 workers at that once vacant facility.

The new IT Centre on Main Street has a company of about 12 employees ready to set up shop when that Main Street building opens in late June.

Add in the ten jobs at the new Riverhouse Inn hotel, the dozen or so at SolarVest located on the Greenfield Road and the growth happening at P.E.I. Berries with 15 employees at the former tobacco plant, and Collins says Roach only elected three years ago should be a happy politician.

“It was pretty gloomy here in the past two years with the federal cutbacks, but the right partnerships have been found and we’re rebounding,’’ said the mayor.

Collins says the job growth is helping to turn the region around and there’s still a chance Ocean Choice and the East Isle shipyard might re-open next year.

“I wanted to be right downtown in the heart of the community,’’ says Furness. “And it seems many of these new small job creators like that idea as well.”