The operative word for Moncton during 2006 was "up"!
Everything that city leaders could hope for kept happening throughout the year as overall economic health indicators continued to post up trending numbers.
Monctonians enjoyed a steady upbeat business climate, which was paced by announcements of business expansions and visible signs of new infrastructure construction in most areas of the city.
Leading the "upbeat" numbers for economic performance was the value of building permits issued by the City of Moncton, for 2006.
The total value of building permits issued in 2006 at $141,400,000, exceeded 2005 by nearly 5 percent ($134.9 million in 2005). This total represents the second best year ever for the City of Moncton.
2006 building permits total marks the fifth consecutive year where the total value of building permits issued in the City of Moncton exceeded $120 million.
"This is significant when considering that the City issued between $50 and $60 million per year throughout most of the '90s", commented Ben Champoux, Business Development Specialist for the City of Moncton.
"Residential, institutional and commercial sectors all performed really well in 2006. This clearly indicates our diversified economy and strong consumer confidence", says Champoux.
The enduring "up" impact was also felt in the conventional residential real estate market, where Moncton paced a record 2006 in resale units with 2,561 MLS sales recorded, representing a 9.4 percent up increase over the previous year 2005.
This up trend line continues in terms of the number of completed real estate sales increasing at an average of 8.8 percent each year, since 1997, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's annual report on Moncton's real estate performance and economic indicators study.
Again, Moncton boasts an up record in home prices with an increase in value recorded by CMHC of $4,500 in 2006. Continuing a trend line of growth, multiple starts for residential posted an increase of 42 percent for the year, while single starts continued a slight decline that started in 2005 as multiples began their popularity with home buyers.
Moncton's booming retail and mixed industry base economy is showing strengths in every sector and this increasing wealth generation is being displayed in the overall increases enjoyed in Moncton's principal personal investment area of higher income home construction and real estate purchases.
CMHC notes that in 2003, in Moncton, only 0.8 percent of the new homes were worth more than $250,000, while in 2005 and 2006, Moncton's residential housing values above the $250,000 price point enjoyed double digit percentage increases.
In the previous year, 2005 some 11 percent of Moncton homes cost more than $250,000 and the average price of a home had risen to $191,220, which is up 13.2 percent from 2005 figures.
Another up sector for Moncton 2006 was further development announcements in retail space and national brand store openings, further enhancing the Maritimes' Hub City status for shopping outlets. A new and expanded footprint in square footage for Future Shop, anchored a number of new Wheeler Park Power Centre stores opening and re-locating in the Mapleton Road-Trinity Drive uber-shopping area..
In a story of local entrepreneurship that is common to Moncton, a local business developed in the local music industry, building in the process a Maritime wide reputation for musical instruments and instruction. In 2006, Frank's Music moved from its old location downtown to help anchor a multi-tenant music centre complex of independent music outlets that helps to support a new school serving several hundred potential music instruction students per year.
And where is this remarkable achievement ?
The Music Centre is located in the middle of the hottest retail sector development in Atlantic Canada next door to Montana's Restaurant and the Home Depot as part of the Trinity Power Centre complex along the Mapleton and Mountain Road's axis of retail in Moncton's northwest corner.
Moncton-based Ashford Investments Ltd. created a new company division called Mapleton Power Centre to buy the 33 rough acreage of land on Mapleton Road's northeast corner, running along Wheeler Blvd West.
Ashford's new multi - store complex will result in more big box and super shopping size retail stores, including the 2006 announcement of The Brick, one of Canada's largest furniture and appliance retailers, taking residence in Moncton's newest shopping centre development.
Also in 2006, Ashford announced their plans for a downtown heritage building, the former YCMA building that began renovation in 2006 as a mixed used commercial property. The renovation is anchored by the Atlantic Ballet School of Canada, which is relocating from smaller premises downtown and is one of Moncton's newest, "can-do" entrepreneurial success stories.
Ashford's Mapleton development is just a short distance south of the new Future Inn, which also opened in 2006, along with a re-located premium Moncton dining restaurant, Maverick's. This combination of local entrepreneurs and expanding national and international chains teaming up to create new and expanded projects together is a growing and frequent new development trend in Moncton's business community.
The Future Inn/Maverick's Restaurant hotel-restaurant hybrid will see another international brand flag hotel-motel built directly opposite the Moncton entrance at the corner of the Mapleton Road and TCH Highway # 2 interchange. Mapleton Road is rapidly becoming a main entrance connector to Moncton's north end and access point to Wheeler Blvd, which runs as a ring road around Moncton, connecting the Town of Riverview on the southwest, with the City of Dieppe on the east..
All these recent business expansions, relocations and new real estate investments in Moncton are continuing to build out the Hub City's reputation as a shopping-as-entertainment location destination for eastern Canada.
Further powering up Moncton's 2006 growth indicators was the expansion of the Medavie/Blue Cross Centre office building, with the office tower construction crane coming down just as the year came to an end. Within days on the same downtown Moncton block, another tall building crane moved into place for the 2007 construction completion of the Marriott Moncton, which is an executive class premium brand hotel with a national brand Keg Restaurant included as part of their new offering downtown.
Current plans call for a new provincial justice courthouse facility and further expansion of the City's Convention facilities to enhance Moncton's Downtown re-development area as Moncton slowly recasts its core business community and visitor facilities. Years in the planning and negotiation, the gradual transformation of Moncton's core downtown area is being anchored by additional premium hotels, restaurants and services related to a focus on expanding Moncton's convention and meeting hub status.
While Monctonians were enduring daily commuting delays during the summer of 2006 due to roadway construction and streetscape expansion, one of the Atlantic region's leading economic think tanks singled Moncton out for some comparative praise and recognition of recent economic accomplishments, as a model for civic development..
The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, a not-for-profit research organization, released their 2006 report that highlighted Moncton, as it profiled the growing economic role of cities in Atlantic Canada.
The report highlighted that Moncton has benefited from the number of people leaving New Brunswick's rural areas and moving to the province's cities.
In fact, Moncton's growth surpassed national growth rates for smaller cities and increased its population at an annual rate of almost one per cent. The only other city in the region to report similar growth was Halifax.
Despite a drop in Atlantic Canada's population between 1995 and 2004, the region's six fastest growing cities - Halifax, St. John's, Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Charlottetown - grew by 50,000 people during that period.
"The path towards greater urbanization is just as evident in this region," said Elizabeth Beale, author of the report. "We're a slower growing region, we've had all sorts of economic challenges over the last little while, but even within that mix urban areas, and some of them in particular, are doing quite well." Moncton, for example.
It was acknowledged in releasing the 2006 report that one of the keys to Moncton's success is the city's ability to diversify its economy. When Moncton lost the CN rail yard and Eaton's a few years ago it could have been the beginning of a spiraling downward trend for the city's economy. However, instead, the city successfully attracted different business ventures - including the call centre industry - and was able to move forward.
It's that kind of "can-do" attitude that attracts investors to Moncton, said Beale. "I think Moncton is an example of a city that has managed to re-invent itself," she said.
"In other words, moving from traditional roles in the transportation industry, for example, and losing out on a certain amount of that hub and spoke activity, but then finding a new base of growth." As well, about 80 per cent of the region's job growth is in the service and business service industries, which includes the call centre sector.
"They've been especially important to Moncton's economy," said Beale.
During the year examined in the report, 2004, Moncton boasted the lowest unemployment rate among the three cities with 69,100 workers and its median household income sat at $43,766.
When it comes to manufacturing activity, Moncton has also been able to report an increase in this type of work, states the report.
While the look-back-in-time study by the economic council report contributed to Moncton's business community sense of recognized positive growth, it was the actual uptake on the current real economic performance numbers for the end of year 2006 that generated a positive buzz through Moncton's commercial and industrial community.
The Greater Moncton region, served by the Greater Moncton Planning Commission, released end of year numbers that profiled not only Moncton as the hub of generating local growth, but that the community extremities of the Hub City are enjoying "record levels of construction", says it's Executive Director, Bill Budd.
Budd says that the total value of all construction in the 13 communities and the unincorporated areas served by the GMPDC came to more than $254 million. With major projects like Downtown Moncton's new Marriott Hotel going into active construction during the last month of 2006 that final year end numbers will be even stronger.
Budd explained that about $141 plus million of that construction was inside Moncton, with most of the balance in the two main adjacent communities of Riverview and Dieppe. Contributing to that overall total is activity in several of the smaller outlying areas.
Major projects moved into firmer timelines during 2006, where the Planning Commission noted that in Moncton, plans for a flagship Sobey's store at the corner of the expanded and re-built Vaughn Harvey Blvd as it connects to the new Moncton Bridge will make this significant acreage area the strategic intersection of Main Street and Vaughan Harvey Boulevard.
Extending Vaughn Harvey Blvd south from Main Street will connect to the Gunningsville Bridge by late 2007 and the critical CN mainline rail tracks was connected over the new Vaughn Harvey rail-highway underpass with highway to bridge access connectors projected to be completed in the fall of 2007.
In addition to Downtown re-development and retail expansion at Mapleton Road, another Moncton developer, Giffels Management Ltd., began construction of a new $15- million office building in the Emmerson Business and Technology Park on Millennium Boulevard. This is the third new office complex of a similar nature in a cluster in this area.
New residential development in 2006, resulted in a new concept in mixed, high density townhouses, which finished construction on the edge of Emmerson Park. Emmerson Park is an area roughly identified as the former Canada Lands renovation of the once major CN Railway Shops, which is located on the same land area and now host of several new land use components. This is another growing success story in Moncton's steady year over year development and growth.
During 2006, Moncton Industrial Park achieved near total residency as the final few lots infilled with new tenant buildings, while several existing buildings dating back to the launch of the industrial park in the late 60's, saw renovation and renewal with new tenant uses.
Major construction of Molson's new $35 million brewery in Caledonia Industrial Estates was achieved during 2006, as well as a significant number of new light industrial - commercial buildings which sprung up in the popular industrial park.
The Planning Commission year end report also noted that in Riverview, the biggest development has been road construction of an east- west corridor, which is expected to spur economic development significantly when it is completed in 2007.
All of this commercial activity across Moncton and in the surrounding communities has been a positive impact on the commercial real estate market according to analysis released by Tim Lyons Regional Manager of Colliers International (Atlantic) Inc., New Brunswick office, located in Moncton.
He noted that office and industrial developments have added much-needed supply to a tight commercial real estate market in Moncton, and he says this development is a welcome sign during a major commercial boom in the hub city. "Moncton has seen some new growth in multi-tenant office and industrial construction; however, our vacancy rates remain below ten percent," he says. "The industrial vacancy rate hasn't been this low since 2003."
Low vacancy rates means companies are scooping up commercial properties as fast as they're being built.
Lyons says the four-storey annex to the Blue Cross Centre has added valuable commercial space to Moncton's downtown commercial landscape. He noted that Giffels' four-storey office project in the Emmerson Business Park opening in mid-2007 is a positive growth for Moncton.
Lyons says multi-tenant industrial construction is rare in Metro Moncton. Compared to other centres across Canada, Moncton has very few multi-tenant industrial facilities and the majority of those are fully leased.
The Colliers report noted that at the end of 2006, the industrial vacancy rate in Moncton stood at 4.7 per cent and a vacancy rate below five per cent is considered to have only enough vacant space in the market for exciting tenants' expansion. Lyons says of 8.6 million square feet surveyed in the report, there is only 405,000 square feet vacant in the city. He says as industrial projects push forward in Metro, more facilities will need to be constructed to meet strong industry demand.
Downtown Moncton during 2006 completed a visioning exercise to help guide the growing investment in downtown Moncton focusing on streetscapes and landscapes as part of a continuing renewal of the city. Creating a visual architecture and green space flow became evident as the renewed and expanded Assumption Blvd was partially completed as an integrated component of the extended highway network flowing to and away from the new Moncton-Gunningsville bridge.
Results from Canada's 2006 Census were released in March. For the first time, the Moncton area was classified as a Census Metropolitan Area. The population figures related to the CMA illustrate the growth and activity in this part of the province as the Moncton CMA has taken over top spot as the largest in the Province.
According to the census, the total population for the Moncton CMA is 126,424. This represents an increase of 6.5% from the previous census in 2001. To put it into perspective, this is the largest percentage increase of any of the large urban areas of Atlantic Canada. It is also above the overall Canada wide increase of 5.4%. Moncton has been enjoying remarkable growth rates as these latest census figures attest and it is seen throughout every sector of its economy.
The year 2006 is truly an economic performance up year for Moncton.