Emer­gence of East Coast boom­town

Hal­i­fax lauded for short com­mutes, affordable homes, clean air and nearby beaches

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ATLANTIC - BY BRETT BUNDALE

Hal­i­fax is boom­ing, its sky­line awash with con­struc­tion cranes, and On­tario na­tive Jesse Rodgers can tell you why.

Rodgers, a vet­eran of Water­loo’s tech startup scene, moved to the Nova Scotia cap­i­tal a year ago with his wife and four kids. They bought a big house on a quiet, tree-lined street a stone’s throw from the ocean.

The fam­ily bought a boat. They eat sup­per to­gether al­most ev­ery night. The kids joined sports teams, and Rodgers coaches hockey in the win­ter, base­ball in the sum­mer.

They are part of a con­ver­gence of fac­tors — thriv­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­struc­tion sec­tors, healthy em­ploy­ment and in­come gains, strong hous­ing and re­tail mar­kets, off-the-charts pop­u­la­tion gains — that have made Hal­i­fax one of the coun­try’s fastest-grow­ing cities, and earned it the ti­tle of Canada’s fifth-big­gest tech hub.

In a re­gion that is largely con­sumed by a nar­ra­tive of de­cline, Hal­i­fax stands out, and not just be­cause of its fast-chang­ing sky­line.

“The startup com­mu­nity in Hal­i­fax feels like Water­loo 15 years ago and it’s go­ing to grow,” said Rodgers, who helms the city’s start-up en­tre­pre­neur hub Volta Labs. “The tim­ing is now for Hal­i­fax.”

Hal­i­fax has long been lauded for its short com­mutes, affordable homes, clean air and nearby beaches. It’s home to mul­ti­ple uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, mil­i­tary bases, start-ups and a con­ve­nient time-zone and ge­og­ra­phy.

But the city’s charm may come from what it doesn’t have: Mil­lion-dol­lar tear­downs, gru­elling com­mutes to in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive, farflung bed­room com­mu­ni­ties, sum­mer­time smog warn­ings, crush-loaded tran­sit. Hal­i­fax res­onates as an anti-Toronto — many big city charms but few big-city headaches.

The city had a record pop­u­la­tion boom last year, eco­nomic growth has been strong, en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity is on the rise and hous­ing starts are up.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s plan­ning de­part­ment is pro­cess­ing more build­ing per­mits than ever be­fore. In 2011, for ex­am­ple, the city is­sued per­mits for 96 new res­i­den­tial units. Last year, that num­ber soared to 1,040 units.

The city’s per capita pop­u­la­tion growth in 2016 out­paced Mon­treal, Van­cou­ver, Ot­tawa and, just barely, Toronto, ac­cord­ing to re­cent Sta­tis­tics Canada fig­ures.

Much of the in­crease came from in­ter­na­tional im­mi­grants, who made up three-quar­ters of the city’s 8,147 new res­i­dents. Even with­out a wave of Syr­ian refugees, it was still a record year.

CP PHOTO

Hai Hu, CEO and co-founder of Or­grim­mar Inc., poses in his of­fice in a Hal­i­fax of­fice tower with cranes from the con­struc­tion boom vis­i­ble in the back­ground.

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