Big business, big(ger) impact

Big business, big(ger) impact

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Contributors:

Sara Ericsson

Economic diversity is something regions around the world strive for, as varied economic activities grow stronger, more developed economies. This variety is achieved when thriving small and large businesses contribute toward the same economy. The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) enjoys a great amount of economic diversity for a region of its size. The area brims with small businesses that are so appreciated fans shout their love from the rooftops.

Our region also boasts large private businesses, built upon innovation, creativity, and teamwork. These businesses produce ripple effects, creating jobs and opportunities in Halifax that otherwise might not occur. Such large businesses include Neocon, Maritime Paper (a division of Scotia Investments), and Oland (a division of Labatt Breweries). We spoke with the leaders of these respected, innovative businesses for insight on how their work impacts our local economy and community.

The Neocon team poses for a photo on the production floor.

BUILDING BIG IN HALIFAX

Neocon Founder and President Pat Ryan says that when he began pondering building a business in Halifax to take on the automotive sector, he was told it could likely work elsewhere — but not here. Today, nearly three decades later, Neocon has become a major private employer in the HRM, employing around 350 people in Nova Scotia and hundreds more across North America.

“Everyone told me why it would never happen here, and the list of reasons was long,” says Ryan. “But one of my greatest strengths was I didn’t know the difference — I just plowed forward.”

The company was founded specifically to help design and build new cars with new features using new techniques. Ryan, a mechanical engineer by trade, was inspired by Halifax’s local engineering talent and connections with Dalhousie University. He was also motivated by the impact local job creation could — and has — had on the community. The home-grown company is now full-service, delivering on concepts, prototypes, designs, and product manufacturing for clients like Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Mazda, Volkswagen, and more — including those in the electric vehicle market. Ryan says this all stems from the think tank that is Neocon’s HRM office.

Their Halifax base produces a spinoff effect, which Ryan says is directly related to job creation in the region. Neocon orders shipping materials and packaging from Maritime Paper and uses services from local organizations including the Dartmouth Adult Services Centre. Neocon is also in the midst of a 60,000-square-foot expansion at its Burnside location and, by May 2022, expects to add another 120 people to its workforce. These developments mean big things for Halifax as a city and as an economy, says Ryan.

“Big business attracts other big business,” he says. “I think if big business continues to think that way, I believe it’s possible — and a really nice goal — that in 10 years we have 2 million people here. This would double our opportunities to create economic traction, and big business is key to that.”

The team at Maritime Paper assembles for a group photo in front of their Burnside location.

HISTORY MEETS INNOVATION

Sheldon Gouthro is President and CEO at Maritime Paper, a division of Scotia Investments that employs more than 200 people at its Burnside location. Having been in business since 1931, Gouthro says the company has long been aware of the need to innovate constantly and consistently over the years in order to remain successful. “We started out by making beverage containers for breweries,” says Gouthro. “And now we manufacture corrugated boxes, serving primarily food and beverage, fishing and agriculture industries. We’re still here after 90 years, which means we have been able to continue finding ways to service the market here in Atlantic Canada. We’ve grown beyond Burnside and have manufacturing now in all four Atlantic provinces, with our core business still here in Dartmouth.”

As a packaging manufacturer and supplier, Maritime Paper directly supports businesses of all sizes, from tiny stores to multinational breweries like Oland Brewery and Moosehead. “We have a major role in facilitating local business thanks to our relationships and collaboration around packaging materials,” says Gouthro. The company also routinely innovates packaging design and sizes to help companies capitalize on opportunities to grow their business. “Whether it’s a major export like crab or lobster, or any other product that needs to go in a box, we have a whole graphic design department to support those ideas,” says Gouthro. Such innovation has been all the more necessary to support businesses through the pandemic. “We’ve been an essential service throughout COVID-19, facilitating the continued shipping of products to our local communities and around the world.”

One of the benefits of the company’s success, says Gouthro, is that Maritime Paper has become an employer of choice that can not only attract, but retain, talent vital to the region. The company has forged lasting relationships with customers and long-term staff — some are part of families that have worked at the company for generations. Gouthro himself has been with Maritime Paper for more than three decades, beginning in an entry-level position and working all the way up to his current leadership role.

“These are great opportunities for people in the region that provide long-term career development opportunities,” says Gouthro. “We’ve invested a lot to keep modern and create opportunities for our business, staff and local economy.”

Wade Keller, Director of Corporate Affairs in Atlantic Canada for Labatt Breweries, stands in front of the Oland Brewery on Agricola Street.

PART OF THE HALIFAX IDENTITY

Wade Keller is the Director of Corporate Affairs in Atlantic Canada for Labatt Breweries, which owns Oland Brewery and Alexander Keith’s Brewery.

These key breweries, it’s safe to say, have become woven into the identity of Halifax, says Keller.

For over a century, the city and breweries have grown alongside one another. Old photos of the Oland brewery depict its Agricola Street location as one largely surrounded by farmland in 1905. Oland Brewery, and Alexander Keith’s within it, has been a major contributor to the growth seen since those pictures were taken, says Keller.

“Oland has been on the same site since 1905,” says Keller. We’ve helped the city grow and we’ve had quite an impact, to be honest. Labatt beers — Bud Light, Schooner Lager, Oland Export Ale, Michelob ULTRA, and more — brewed on Agricola Street make up about two thirds of NSLC beer sales. Of the $275 million in NSLC beer sales in the last available annual report, around $180 million came from Oland brewery, which is a significant impact.”

Despite its national and international reach developed over a century in business, the brewery is firmly rooted in Halifax, says Keller. “Many people don’t see us as local. The people who work here are very proud of what they do, and of our long history in Halifax,” he says. “I think this is one thing that sometimes gets overlooked, because Labatt is part of a multinational company.”

Keller emphasizes his appreciation for local staff, which has remained relatively steady at around 200 people. Many are from families who have worked with the brewery for generations, says Keller. Since the craft beer craze swept the Maritime region, and Nova Scotia in particular, Keller has noted a lack of recognition for brewing teams that work at larger breweries, like Oland. These teams deserve recognition for their place within the brewing community, says Keller.

An Oland Brewery team member surveys the bottling process.

“When you look at people who work in our brewery and add the value the brewery brings through the sales of our products, you get people who are very proud of the fact that they live and work here and make contributions to their community,” says Keller. “They see themselves as part of the local beer industry.”

Annually, says Keller, Oland Brewery spends $15 million on wages and $30 million on goods and services — between $8 and $10 million will be spent this year alone in capital upgrades at the Agricola Street brewery. The local impact of these expenditures demonstrates how the brewery has become a significant contributor to the regional and provincial economies.

“There’s no question about the value of small businesses in the province. I think there is also an equal value that should be placed on medium or large businesses,” says Keller. “The model for a successful, strong economy is finding that right mix of both.”

The bottling conveyer at Oland Breweries.


Cover photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash. In-text photos provided by Neocon, Maritime Paper, and Labatt.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

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