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Greater Moncton - "A Secret Boomtown"

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Excerpted from the NATIONAL POST BUSINESS MAGAZINE By Julie McCann

IN 1991, MONCTON WAS ON THE ROAD TO BECOMING ANOTHER EASTERN CANADA GHOST TOWN. FORTY-THREE CALL CENTRES LATER, HOWEVER, THE CITY IS GETTING A NEW SKATING RINK.

For most of the last century, Moncton, NB, was a small thriving regional centre – a natural junction for goods crisscrossing the Maritimes. In the late 80’s, however, the switch to just-in-time delivery systems sent the city’s bread and butter warehousing and distribution business into retreat. Moncton’s economy hit rock bottom in 1990, when Canadian National Railways, the region’s largest employer, shed 2,500 jobs. The city’s population began to shrink and the downtown took on a deserted look.

Flash forward: the city’s population is up 4,000 from 1996 to 113,000; the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.5% from 13% in 1990; and planning is underway on several new facilities including a hotel, an aquatic centre and an outdoor skating rink.

What’s changed since 1990 is that 43 call centres have been set up in Moncton. These large office complexes house 6,500 employees who spend their eight-hour shifts answering phone queries from across Canada and around the world. Call centers were the brainchild of Moncton and provincial officials looking to save the city after the CN layoffs in 1990. The first thing they did was take stock of the city’s assets. NB Tel, the provincial telephone utility, had already given Moncton a sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. The city also had a largely bilingual workforce that was hungry for jobs. As well, the two area universities – Mount Allison University and Université de Moncton – provided a supply of educated technicians, engineers and managers. Within three years, Purolator Courier, Federal Express and Royal Bank of Canada had opened shop. This past February, Rogers Communications also announced plans to build a state-of-the-art facility in Moncton that will employ 700.

The trick now, says Ron Gaudet, President of the Greater Moncton Economic Commission, is to push development beyond call centres’ “We don’t ever want to be where we were with CN, where one sector so dominated that we were vulnerable.”

Ironically, the biggest threat that Moncton now faces is a dearth of people, says Mayor Brian Murphy: “Our unemployment rate is not that different from Toronto’s” he explains. “There are jobs available that aren’t being filled.”

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Added Moncton For Business Comments: the latest official figures from Statistics Canada peg the unemployment rate for the Greater Moncton area at 7.6%. It should also be noted that the catchment area for Moncton is the southeast segment of the province which provides a substantially larger potential employment base. With its growth, Moncton is also a very attractive area for people from throughout the province moving to the area. As such, the Moncton area sports one of the fastest growth rates in the region.

In addition to the success of the call centres, Moncton’s economy has fared extremely well across several sectors. The manufacturing sector, in both basic and hi-tech, has seen some significant growth. The distribution sector has rebounded with some very substantial new DC’s such as Atlantic Wholesalers, Shoppers Drug Mart and currently under construction, Kraft Foods. The retail industry has been experiencing dramatic growth as demonstrated by the WalMart currently under construction, which is the largest one in Atlantic Canada.

Moncton is quietly booming and its success promises to continue as new opportunities continue to broaden its economic base.

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