Danny Breen
Mayor - City of St. John’s

St. John’s Success in the Ocean Economy

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Takeaways

  1. The harsh environment of St. John’s makes it a perfect location for research, product development, and training in the ocean economy.
  2. Despite the harshness of the surrounding oceans, St. John’s has an incredible quality of life, attracting people from around the world to visit and relocate there.
  3. Educational institutions in St. John’s focus on ocean industries and sciences, ensuring a stream of industry-ready talent for the sector.

Action

St. John’s has all the ingredients to thrive as a city focused on the ocean industries. With a rich history with the ocean, local companies are able to lead in key innovations while the city continues to attract investment and talent from around the world to further enrich the sector.


What makes St. John’s an attractive destination for foreign investors? 

St. John’s has a lot of advantages in terms of attracting investment and leads 20 cities in North America for taxation competitiveness and other business operating costs for research and development (R&D). There is a tremendous lifestyle for attracting talent here and it also has very robust experience in the ocean industry sector.

“In St. John’s, researchers and developers have the opportunity to develop their products and test them in the harsh environments of the North Atlantic.”

We have been built on ocean industries all our lives. We grew up around water and we are used to the water. It presents many challenges but also many opportunities. In St. John’s, researchers and developers have the opportunity to develop their products and test them in the harsh environments of the North Atlantic. This is where we live and it can be a harsh environment here. We also have educational institutions that have the capacity to train high-quality local talent and entice people to come here to have better experience in the ocean industry sector.

“St. John’s offers a safe environment while allowing people to do the things they want in a place they can live and work.”

One of the things that is very important for us in terms of economic development and attracting new companies and investment is the lifestyle of the people who come here. It is one thing to attract, but it is another to retain. There is a great adventure side to St. John’s with a trail system that is just hugely popular. We also have arts and entertainment here, where the music scene is great. St. John’s offers a safe environment while allowing people to do the things they want in a place they can live and work and feel like they belong.


How have challenges facing St. John’s economy become competitive advantages? 

One of the challenges is the geography and our location of being far away from markets historically. Now, that has become an opportunity for us because we have the ability to bring people here to work and learn in the ocean industry sector as well as at various educational institutions. 

Technology has allowed us to provide our services and provide companies here the opportunity to market to the world. What was a challenge for us for a long time has now become one of our great strengths to be able to have a strong export base market.

For people who are working remotely, if they are looking for a good lifestyle, we can offer that here in St. John’s and in Newfoundland and Labrador. We had to create opportunities for people to live here and that is what we are doing now.


What recent investments have been made in St. John’s ocean economy?

There have been significant investments such as the Ocean Supercluster, which has been a major contributor here. It has given companies here the ability to partner with companies from around the world and provided them with the ability to access the services, research, and development tools we have here in the ocean industries as well as expand markets for our companies to go beyond Canada or North America. There are also investments in educational institutions and research facilities, both in the ice area and in having the largest flume tank. We have facilities here that are available now to companies to come here and do their research and development and set up shop.

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How would you describe the innovation and R&D ecosystem in St. John’s?

We have had significant success in the tech sector. Companies like Verafin and its acquisition by NASDAQ have been a big boost for the whole startup sector here. Entrepreneurs beginning new ventures in St. John’s see the success of previous companies here and are encouraged by that. We also have companies like Kraken Robotics, which is looking at expanding, as well as acquisitions of other companies in the area. Another notable company is Genoa Design International, one of the top shipbuilding design companies around. There has been a whole new group of companies that have come forward and are now beginning to make their mark on the industry worldwide.


What are some misconceptions people have about St. John’s that you would like to rectify? 

People are surprised when you explain to them that you can leave St. John’s and be in Toronto quickly. They think St. John’s is a long distance from anywhere, but the journey to Toronto is about the same as going to London, which means we are actually pretty centered. That is the first thing that people get a bit concerned about, but when it is explained to them it seems to make sense. Geography is starting to mean less and less in terms of industry and the economy as we move forward. 

The ocean industry in St. John’s represents a significant portion of the ocean industries in Canada. The historical fishing communities here are still strong. We still have a very strong seafood industry and we also have a strong offshore oil and gas industry too. We have a strong tech sector and there is so much potential in it. That is really what people need to see and what we try to explain to people every day.


How receptive are the people of St. John’s to foreign direct investment? 

The people here see foreign direct investment and the value that it brings. We have seen this value in the oil industry since its inception back in the 1970s. We have seen what the investment has done for us, what a change the oil industry has had on our lifestyle, and the opportunities that it has given people. Foreign investors and companies here are working with the city as we transition into a new economy. We see them as being a major part of that. They are here and we are working with them as we transition into the new economy.


What is your 30-second pitch to foreign investors about St. John’s? 

They have to look at the province and the people. The people are caring and all pull together and help each other. St. John’s has high-quality facilities, education, and talent. People want to come to our province because we are seen as world leaders in the ocean industries and sciences. We also have a great ability to retain their employees here in a very competitive labour market. People are going to want to come to Newfoundland and stay once they come here.

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Danny Breen
Mayor - City of St. John’s

Bio: Danny Breen is the Mayor of St. John’s. He was elected mayor in the 2017 municipal election. Prior to his election to the mayoralty, Breen represented Ward 1 on St. John’s City Council from 2009 until 2017. He is part of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is currently Council lead on Governance and Strategic Priorities, Economic Development. 

Organization Profile: The City of St. John’s is the capital and largest city of Newfoundland and Labrador. It resides on the eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula on the Newfoundland island. Officially incorporated as a city in 1888, St. John’s now has a metropolitan population of approximately 219,207 people, being Canada’s 20th-largest metropolitan area and the second-largest Census Metropolitan Area in Atlantic Canada.