TOPIC - Halifax cannot rest on its laurels
Fred Morley - Trend Watch
(Originally published in the July 2012 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal)
It’s been a year since Halifax launched its new five-year economic strategy AGREATERHalifax, and it’s time for a gut check on the performance of our city. Study after study has demonstrated that a growing Halifax benefits the entire province, so ensuring progress is occurring in Halifax is of interest to all Nova Scotians.
Recently, the Greater Halifax Partnership released the Halifax Index, a more comprehensive look at economic progress than any other city in Canada is currently undertaking. It represents a wide-angled view of what economic and community progress looks like, benchmarking progress against comparable cities in Canada.
What the index tells us is that Halifax has been doing very well. Population and economic growth, construction, fiscal stability, environmental progress, and views of our quality of life and community are positive. But Halifax cannot rest on its laurels. There are things we need to work hard to improve, and the index identifies some of these challenges:
• Grow Halifax’s population. Halifax needs more immigrants and increased retention of students and young professionals. Halifax has one of the largest populations of international students but one of our nation’s lowest retention rates. Retention and attraction of talent requires more than scenery and ocean breezes. It requires good jobs, with career paths in companies in high-growth sectors.
• Improve the tax and regulatory climate. High taxes and burdensome regulation present barriers to business growth and individual success. The tax side is difficult to address in the short term given the challenges faced by cash-strapped governments, but there are few excuses for poor customer service. Getting regulation and client service right is a priority for government partners in our economic strategy.
• Grow a healthy regional centre. While there has been plenty of commercial space development in Halifax, 96 per cent of the new inventory between 2008 and 2010 was located outside of the urban core. This is worrisome as many cities have felt the costs of commercial and residential sprawl. We need to work now to meet growth targets for the urban core, where civic infrastructure and services already exist.
• Create a culture of partnership. The community needs to nurture a culture of partnership when tackling challenges and opportunities. Halifax needs a community culture that deals with issues by engaging in vital business and community partnerships rather than blaming challenges on others and going it alone.
You can go to halifaxindex.com to read the Halifax Index and dive deeper into the key issues. There will also be opportunities to join in the discussion on what is already, and can be, done to build AGREATERHalifax.
Fred Morley is the executive vice president and chief economist of the Greater Halifax Partnership. He has written over 100 articles on economic growth issues and presented his views to dozens of organizations and governments around the world. You can reach Fred at firstname.lastname@example.org .