Tool to attract developers' attention
A timely program is going to give land owners with commercial and industrial development potential a marketing boost geared towards foreign investment.
Atlantic Canada Certified Sites is a new accreditation program similar to one implemented with some success in Ontario, making it the second of its kind across the country. The goal of the certification process will be to give direct investors around the world some assurance that these properties will meet their needs.
"It gives the confidence to the foreign direct investors that all the checks have been done and that it's gone through an extensive review process so that the sites are development-ready when they meet the criteria for the program," explained Joe Brennan, a senior program manager for the Atlantic Association of Community Business Development Corporations. That organization is responsible for delivering the program.
"As you can appreciate in the COVID environment now that we are working in, people can't travel to our shores as freely as they used to be able to prior to COVID, so that's another bonus — that these sites have gone through an extensive review and meet pre-determined minimum requirements for the program,” Brennan continued. “They're reviewed by an independent third party, and they're ready for development."
The criteria for site certification will cover a lot of ground. Access to three-phased power, water and wastewater services, site access and quality telecommunications will all need to be specifically addressed. For commercial office development, a minimum of five contiguous acres of land will be needed. For industrial development, at least 10 acres will be required. Vacant buildings must be at least 20,000 square feet to be included in the program. A letter of support from the relevant municipality outlining zoning for the site must also be secured, along with an environmental assessment.
The accreditation program was in development for quite some time and long before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. The pandemic has certainly affected where people work and the move towards working from home to reduce the spread of coronavirus has taken some of the shine off commercial office buildings.
"I think it's very timely from that perspective," Brennan said. "It's something that we could not foresee, and nobody ever thought going into 2020 that this is where we'd be with respect to our working environment and how things have changed with COVID.
“But we feel we're well positioned as a program to be able to assist. It's a little different delivery model than we had envisioned, but we're going along as business as usual. We launched the program on Friday (Sept. 18) with a webinar that we hosted, and there was lots of interest. We've hit the ground running here, talking to property owners and looking to get sites certified to be listed on our site."
The first step in the process will be to build an inventory of certified sites — a website for the program was launched at atlanticcanadacertifiedsites.com. Then the team behind the program will move towards actively attracting foreign direct investment interest through marketing and promotion activities. A variety of sectors will be engaged throughout the world.
"We're working on an extensive marketing plan to promote these sites within our region to global investors around the world," Brennan said. "That has not been finalized as of yet, but we have a very dedicated committee that's working towards the goal to ensure these sites are going to be marketed very well to attract the interest of foreign direct investors around the globe."
That work to engage a global audience is expected to start in early 2021. Given the realities of the post-pandemic world, Brennan anticipates participation in virtual trade missions and other online engagement will be a big part of that push.
"It is a different time ... and we've been working with a good team to be able to adjust and pivot as needed,” he said. “And at such time when COVID is behind us, we have tactics as well that we'll enter in terms of getting back to our traditional way of doing things.”
The federal government is supporting this program, as are the four Atlantic Provinces through the Atlantic Trade and Investment Growth Agreement.