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ADRIAN WHITE: Let’s not miss this opportunity in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality

The Civic Centre in Sydney.
The Civic Centre in Sydney. - Contributed

Canada is approaching the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past year we have seen many changes to the way we live, work, play and socialize.

COVID-19 has been one of the major disruptors of our lifetime. Some examples of major disruptors of the past would be the light bulb to the candle business, the automobile to the horse and buggy, Amazon to the retail storefront, and the internet to printed media.

All of the disruptor examples I mention are major turning points in the evolution of mankind and the society in which we now live.

I read an opinion letter in the Cape Breton Post a few weeks back penned by Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) businessman Craig Boudreau, owner of several commercial properties in the CBRM along with a couple of fast-food outlets and a portable sign company. His letter lamented the negative impact on his business assets caused by the pandemic work-from-home policy of many branches of government and the private sector whose workers would normally wander the downtowns of CBRM. He wants those workers back in their downtown offices, paying rents and eating in local restaurants.

I completely understand his concerns. You could now have office tenants that have permanently changed their work habits and on the verge of not renewing a commercial lease not coming downtown to buy lunches or patronize their favourite coffee shop. That would be concerning to me as well if I had mortgage obligations at risk as most commercial property owners do.

CONTRASTING SITUATION

In contrast, last week I read a news article in the Cape Breton Post where Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster sees COVID-19 as having a silver lining for the county he represents. In his opinion, the work-from-home concept provides an opportunity for workers to relocate to his region, set up a home office and from there work online anywhere in the world.

The concept would bring new families to the Inverness area and justify government investment in new infrastructure to support those families such as schools, hospitals, roads, housing and shopping. New families would increase county population and grow the tax base needed to build services not currently available in the community.

These are certainly two contrasting visions regarding the impacts of the pandemic. One where the glass is half empty and the other where the glass is half full.

In today’s world, provincial governments rarely try to outbid each other with tax breaks and cash incentives to attract the big brick and mortar manufacturing plants to relocate to their province as a way to create jobs.

The internet and digitization of many business platforms have literally levelled the playing field allowing young online workers to set up shop in any province or municipality they wish. With the right infrastructure, it is easier to attract an online worker who grew up in the CBRM to relocate back to their home town since these ex-pats have an affinity and familiarization with the community.

But to make a real difference in growing CBRM’s population and strengthening the community we are going to have to work a lot harder and smarter than we have been to attract on-line workers from other provinces and countries to Cape Breton. We will need to compete with every other municipality in the country to get our fair share of immigrants to relocate to CBRM.

The one thing missing from MLA MacMaster’s vision to attract new on-line workers to Inverness was a comprehensive marketing plan. Where are the resources and marketing strategies to reach these new families?

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

On the other hand, CBRM already has most of the required infrastructure that is now missing in Inverness county but is showing little initiative to capitalize on these assets.

Voters in CBRM just elected eight new councillors and its first female mayor. The electorate is expecting to see new ideas and a sense of enthusiasm that will move the municipal agenda and community forward.

Whether willingly or unwillingly, every elected person on CBRM council has now been officially enrolled as an ambassador for the municipality. Council members will be representing the entire region whenever they are at social gatherings, attending conferences or travelling abroad.

Council is our new sales team and the mayor our VP sales.

Every CBRM resident is an ambassador whenever they travel outside Cape Breton. We all have a responsibility to promote CBRM as a desirable place to live, work, or retire.

We need to equip each councillor with the proper talking points to attract others to relocate to CBRM. Talking points that include high-speed internet in the most populous areas, low-cost residential real estate compared to Halifax and other provinces, a nearby airport, a world-class harbour, beautiful scenic vistas, a deep cultural sense and an ultra-low incidence of COVID-19 infection to mention just a few of CBRM’s many assets.

Few will come to Cape Breton if our sales team sits on their hands. So let’s get the message out there.

Adrian White is president, NNF Inc, Business Advisors. He resides in Baddeck and Sydney.

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