A plan to make Holyrood a hub of activity for the ocean technology sector took another step forward Friday, as the Oceans Holyrood Initiative (OHI) unveiled a new marketing campaign.
A long-term project of the local municipal government since 2013, OHI’s foundation is built around the presence of a harbour ideal for research and the testing of technology designed for cold water environments. The Marine Institute’s Holyrood Marine Base, including the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology, already has a home along the waterfront, and a $23-million expansion is in the works.
Glenn Blackwood, vice-president of Memorial University for the Fisheries and Marine Institute, gave a small update on the expansion during the campaign launch event held Friday at the Star of the Sea in Holyrood, stating it’s now in a tendering process.
He also spoke of his experience as chairman of the International Association of Maritime Universities, a group that includes 67 post-secondary institutions from around the world. He described them as the universities that train the world’s mariners.
“I’ve been to about 30 of those universities in places like Russia and all over Europe, the U.S. and Asia. There’s nothing like this (in Holyrood) like anywhere I’ve seen … We’ve taken ideas and put them together in Holyrood,” Blackwood said.
Setting up shop
With that in mind, OHI has positioned Holyrood as the place in Newfoundland and Labrador to set up shop for oceans-related commerce, applied research, training and education. It established an industrial park with over 1,000 acres of land available for development, a separate business park for research and development companies, an innovation centre within the town hall where start-ups can rent space and receive assistance on business matters, plus a retail development to serve the needs of a growing community.
Peter Laing, a strategic and creative lead with Robot Interactive and Marketing, discussed how the St. John’s company worked with OHI to develop the new marketing campaign, which makes use of video, print and online promotional materials. Knowing the project is all about finding people willing to invest in the town, the company looked at direct and indirect ways to get to that endpoint.
“Our tourism campaign tells us and the world about the magical, charming place that Newfoundland is — and it’s a great place to be,” Laing said. “But from an economic development perspective, sometimes you need to go a little bit further than just, ‘It’s a great place to be.’ You’re trying to convince people to invest and to feel confidence that if I invest in this community, there’s going to be return on this investment.”
The campaign takes into consideration the need to take a different approach when trying to reach a unique audience, branding Holyrood as a place “where ocean innovation comes ashore.”
Activity tied to OHI has not ground to a halt, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Blue Ocean Industrial Park, a 44-acre property the town sold last fall to a developer, opened in October of 2019. According to Gary Corbett, development lead for OHI, there are talks of expanding this park, as the existing acreage is almost entirely spoken for.
“The road network (in the park) began this week — it’s under construction as we speak — and the building of facilities will follow immediately upon completion of the roads,” Corbett said. “We have a tremendous relationship with the Blue Ocean partners and we’re excited by their success.”
He expects businesses operating in the park will be well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities coming from larger projects in Bull Arm, Bay Bulls, Argentia and St. John’s.
“The companies coming to town have identified opportunities for a new workforce, and the possible employment opportunities for our local people is exactly what the province needs at this point in time,” said Corbett, also the chief administrative officer for the Town of Holyrood.
The retail area developed near the site of a former rubber factory — billed as The Stores — will soon have a new medical building offering health services to residents, and council is currently looking at an application to proceed with an $8-million supermarket development. Another application before the town proposes to set up a microbrewery at the Festival Grounds site along the waterfront. Corbett said that project would have a value of approximately $3 million.
“This is the recipe for sustainability and growth in our town,” Corbett said. “Oceans Holyrood provided us with the means to attract investment, to ignite excitement and to hope for the future.”
Holyrood Mayor Gary Goobie, who has served in that role for the duration of OHI’s existence, believes the town is now bearing fruit from the decision made in 2013 to proceed with the project.
“We are witnessing growth in our population, in our business community, and growth in the available services and infrastructure that we can offer those who want to make Holyrood their home,” he said.