It wasn’t so long ago that people were bemoaning Amherst’s economic fortunes and criticizing the town’s leadership for its lack of action in attracting new business and new jobs to the community.
While we are nowhere near the days of Busy Amherst, when hundreds worked at the town’s major industries of the time, things are much better than they were in 2016 when the current mayor and council were elected and we still have a considerable way to go when there are sufficient jobs to combat what seems to be high poverty and low income levels.
Still, there’s plenty of reason for optimism and as much as we sometimes like to point the finger of blame at our municipal, provincial and federal leadership, there are times when they do deserve some credit.
It’s difficult attracting companies to smaller communities such as Amherst and the news has been full in recent of years of firms that have abandoned small towns in favour of larger markets, like Halifax, or other countries.
What towns like Amherst can do, however, is help create a climate in which business feels welcome. For several years business has sounded the alarm about the level of taxes they have to pay when next door in New Brunswick there are plenty of tax incentives that make it more attractive for companies to establish themselves – and their jobs – there. In fairness, under the existing provincial legislation tax incentives are very limited – something that really ties the hands of development officer as they work to entice firms to this province.
The past several months have been good ones for the Amherst economy and the spirit that existed in the mid-1990s, when Amherst was once again becoming Busy Amherst, is again evident. At the time, then mayor Jerry Hallee publicly dreamed of the day when there was no unemployment in Amherst and while that may have been a bit of hyperbole on the part of the mayor things were starting to boom once again.
After 2008, however, thanks, in part to the world recession that was gripping the economy, more jobs left the community while some of our established firms, like IMP Aerostructures, saw their workforce decline.
Now, the tide appears to be turning. The town recently issued a press release trumpeting recent successes on the business front. From restaurants like Our Backyard BBQ, Savoie Kitchen and Smokehouse and Frank & Gino’s, manufacturer Cabinet Central and Harts Store in the Amherst Town Square Mall there is plenty of reason for optimism in our future.
Amherst has gotten off the mat, dusted itself off and is showing the rest of the province that there is a future in rural Nova Scotia. Not all of that is because of our town’s leadership, but one thing it does deserve credit for is working to create that climate of economic development and it’s for that reason that Amherst’s new development officer Rebecca Taylor, Mayor David Kogon and other members of Amherst’s town council deserve a pat on the back.
Saying that, now’s not the time to rest on our laurels, wipe are hands and say mission accomplished. Instead, it’s time to get back to work and take the next steps toward growing the economy and making Amherst, and it’s people, busy once again.