New opportunities are on the horizon for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.
With the recent signing of several memorandums of understanding [MOU] between several Atlantic Canadian groups and Chinese businesses, the potential for more business – and employment – in St. Mary’s is a possibility.
John Beaton, CEO of the Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN) said there are at least 14 new jobs that could be coming to St. Mary’s, with the district and Zhongshou Taiyan Health Enhancement and Technology Group, a Chinese health and wellness company considering opening businesses in the area.
Warden Michael Mosher and Beaton were among a number of Atlantic Canadian delegates representing government and business interests who went to China for a trade mission, seeking potential collaboration between the countries.
“It was something that came together in the very short term – both the agreement and being part of the mission in China,” said Mosher. “It’s great because economic development is important.”
Although Mosher said it’s too early in the process to set any benchmarks or expectations, he said, “I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this through.”
The geological and environmental viability of any business opening in St. Mary’s remains yet to be determined. Mosher said the district and its potential partners are engaged in research about where to go from here.
The potential of new business and economic growth is an appealing one to the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, one of many areas in rural Nova Scotia that struggles to maintain its population, with few employment opportunities.
“We will be able to bring some economic growth and job opportunities, and that’s always an objective – especially when it’s done with respect for the environment in a sustainable way,” Mosher said. “People might have the opportunity to move back to St. Mary’s, instead of having to leave to find job opportunities elsewhere.
“That’s always a goal for us and we’d love to be able to get to that point.”
The original intent of the trade mission to China was to establish trade relations and get several MOUs signed, noted Beaton. The main focus was to sign a specific MOU for the development of a blood worm farm in St. Mary’s.
“Through discussions of that one (bloodworm farm) project, it ended up turning into three projects,” Beaton said.
Beaton said the work done so far has been “a phenomenal success.”
“It’s going to be a great financial investment in our region, with great job creation opportunities there. We have some development permits we need to make happen, but we expect to see some serious traction in project one next year.”
Project one, the bloodworm farm would employ 14 people tasked with cultivating blood worms.
Blood worms are cultivated for consumption as a delicacy, and used medicinally. At the plant, blood worms would be cultivated, harvested and eventually turned into a powder to be used as a nutritional supplement.
Although bloodworms local to Nova Scotia don’t grow very large, if they are deliberately cultivated, they can grow up to 14 inches long.
The trade mission to China was the result of a collaboration between Atlantic Canadian officials and Grace Chum, president of the Atlantic New Technology Inc. and a Chinese liaison.
The main reason Zhongshou Taiyan is interested in the 155 acres of land that St. Mary’s is potentially willing to sell them, is the unspoiled natural environment in the area.
“The attraction was to the quality of the water. There aren’t heavy metals in the soil. We have clean water, great natural resources and great people – that’s where the connection originally happened,” Beaton said.
“They want to do their thing in an environment that is clean, because they promote clean living and products, and we’d like to think we’re part of that here in Nova Scotia, and Canada as a whole,” Mosher said.
In addition to the blood worms, Beaton said Zhongshou Taiyan is also interested in growing Chinese medicinal plants in St. Mary’s, in what would constitute project two.
If viable, project three would be the eventual opening of a Chinese health centre in the Strait region. That idea can only manifest once a couple of years’ worth of pilot testing is completed.
The pilot testing is another way Chinese business is making connections with Atlantic Canada. Zhongshou Taiyan plans to carry out its pilot testing in co-operation with DeNovo Global Technologies, a company with ties to Perennia in Truro.
The expansion of Zhongshou Taiyan’s business to St. Mary’s, Beaton noted, is Atlantic Canada’s opportunity to tap into the economic growth potential entailed in China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, a development in which China plans to invest and develop infrastructure in numerous countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Mosher noted the MOU “is a very introductory document,” but that it’s a solid step toward the groups involved working together to be able to develop business opportunities within St. Mary’s.
“One thing we learned that working with Chinese investors is that they work very quickly,” Beaton said. “They’re not used to the same barriers to business development that we sometimes face. In terms of getting ties with Canada straightened and strengthening trade relations with us, they want to move as quickly as possible.”
That fast pace, in Beaton’s opinion, “is excellent,” noting that there are already “spinoff conversations” between other groups involved in the trade mission, such as the government of Chengdu and the Melford Atlantic Gateway Container Terminal and Logistics Park, on potential collaborations involving port development and transportation.
In addition to traveling to China, Beaton acted as a host to Chinese businesspeople and delegates, bringing them on tours to the NSCC Strait Area Campus in Port Hawkesbury, and St. F.X. in Antigonish, all in the interest of building ties between Atlantic Canada and China.
At St. F.X., members of a Chinese educational delegation signed an agreement allowing for recruitment opportunities, and encouraging visiting scholars and faculty to consider other areas of cooperation, including research and academic programs.
“As we work on these export and investment ready projects, we’re going to be looking to partner with key groups like Nova Scotia Business Inc., the Canadian Trade Consulate and the Trade Commission,” Beaton said.