15 Out of the Container Ideas on How We Might Re-Invent the Cape Breton Economy
The world is getting all fracked up.
What is a beautiful little island in the Atlantic to do? No, not you P.E.I… wait your turn… We're talking about Cape Breton.
Grasping onto old world economic models and industries is a failing strategy - isn't that right buddy?
There aren't enough jobs or money for everyone to live well and prosper here, and people are leaving. We're simply non-competitive with other parts of the country, and we're moving backwards. But we don't have to be!
With that said, let’s brainstorm.
- How can we think outside of the box (or container) and latch onto new opportunities?
- What can you add to these ideas if you don't tie up and muzzle the mouth of your creativity with dirty duct tape?
There are no right answers, just ideas to explore.
First off, wait a minute. Why even bother brainstorming? What’s the point here?
Note: Skip past these points if you're easily bored, to get to the good stuff below. There will definitely be things you haven't considered before in the list.
- Make Cape Breton a better place to live, more cost effectively. Driving down costs can compel people to both stay here, and come here.
- Recruit new people to the area through unrivaled educational opportunities.
- Create programs that will be magnets for recurrent international media coverage.
- Work together as a hive and innovate in the use of Social Media.
- Don’t become Silicon Valley (unrealistic). Become Silicon Valley’s testing laboratory.
- Break down old regulations fast to pave the way for innovation in housing before anyone else can catch up.
- Do everything possible to make it look like we care about the island down to the smallest pothole.
- Create landmarks with tourism value and have others pay for them.
- Be world renowned for dramatic experience. Create public relations blitzes.
- Create a local government that is engaged and has model setting, unrivaled transparency, and leadership in crowdsourcing strategy.
- Identify and break the neck of bad economic bottlenecks. Dive into the world of Freakonomics.
- Attract controversial, International brands here earlier than everyone else.
So let’s kick it off. Remember, these are just some seeding ideas. They should help get your own creative juices flowing. It’s not about being right. It’s about sparking discussions and spin off ideas.
#1 House Boat Harbour
I remember arriving in St. John’s, Newfoundland and being stunned by how beautiful it looked. It left a big impression on me. Just the image of that colorful, beautiful harbor is burned in. That is what sparked me to think about how that sort of image could be manufactured in the Sydney Harbor.
How can we enhance the impression we have our on tourist arrivals when they come to the harbor, and create more Social Media worthy photo sharing opportunities?
Let’s create a section of the harbor zoned and with electrical, sewage, docking and other infrastructure needed to allow for 50–100 houseboats.
The houseboats will meet one of 3 different models designed by local engineers and will be built here. They will be painted with a choice from a pre-approved palette of colors created by a contracted modern visual design professional.
5 will be approved only if the owners agree to operate them as part time AirBNB rentals with guidelines set by the CBRM. Others may choose to do so for rental income.
#2 Make the Entire Island a Self Driving Car Test Track
How much worse could driving get on the Island? Problems with the roundabouts, refusal to use signal lights, stopping at invisible yield signs, offering right of way they don’t own, and leaving 2 days early for their Sunday drive, etc.
So let’s have the municipality get provincial approval to put self driving cars on our roads, and then have the Mayor invite Google and other vendors to come here and do a test on a unique community characteristics.
Let them test against winter weather, potholes, dirt roads, and aging or bad drivers.
And while they're at it. Let’s have them transport our nighttime drinking crowd home safely, rather than drive the roads drunk. Google can provide vouchers for local cab companies to compensate for lost revenue per each ride they offer.
And, yes, we send the news of it as far reaching Internationally as possible — quite easily. Ready for some CNN/BBC coverage?
#3 Shipping Container Residential Park
We have lots of citizens with restricted incomes and whom are excluded or delayed from gaining home ownership. Yet homeownership is a way to keep people rooted here, compel them to move here, and also to create additional disposable income for spending versus paying high rent (assuming low maintenance costs).
So like our houseboats, let’s fasttrack 3 pre-approved plans for home models based on these containers that can be built quickly and inexpensively using any local qualified contractors (not just the bigger brand, expensive model home companies).
Let’s secure land and get the infrastructure in place to create this into a large residential, beautiful park with developed amenities within.
Key: Though these homes will be lower value to build, they should be taxed at $120,000k rate for homes. This will ensure new home owners get the advantages without jeopardizing the necessary tax revenues.
Each new homeowner can optionally purchase a small one room bachelor apt to be added to the home’s floor space (in larger units) to promote it being used as an income property and help offset the mortgage. However, the area should NOT be zoned to allow rentals to prevent existing landlords with lots of capital from defeating the purpose.
#4 Tiny Homes Plan
Just another way to create affordable housing, but this time on any land location within the municipality.
It requires that we also get some preapproved plans in place (fast track) to allow for these homes to be built by local contractors.
However, we need to also adjust bylaws to allow them, where reasonable, to be added to the property of existing residents with limited space so they can be used for either:
- Rental accommodations (novel student housing)
- Transitional homes for aging parents who want their independence, but should be close to family and would be comfortable in a small economic home.
Tiny homes is a big and growing niche. And a community that embraces this at full scale has tremendous potential for International media and Internet coverage. Let’s become a case study!
#5 Amazon Drone Delivery Island
In keeping with the idea of acting as a laboratory for new technology, why not invite Amazon to use the entire CBRM as a testing facility?
The risks associated would be minimal. The media coverage would be astronomical.
The mayor should have Jeff Bezos on the phone, stat.
This is a very interesting experiment especially for a community with an aging population and a retirement destination. This delivery technology could be very important for seniors.
However, at this time, I’m kinda sorta going to recommend that we discourage them from dropping off prescription meds in the driveway… or it could become like the old Midnight Madness at Zellers — or if Best Buy had a Black Friday special of just one 100-inch LED TV on for $1. That kind of frenzy.
#6 CBU Free Education for Nurses and the UIT “Startup Diploma”
A little while before CBU announced they were increasing tuitions, they actually launched a discussion with talks about free tuition.
The interesting thing about universities that we are quite aware of locally, is how they bring bright young people and their bank accounts to the region.
We can't pull off free tuition for everyone. However, we can start with two important categories in some capacity:
- Nurses: They are in demand. Let’s find the top x candidates among them each year and give them a full ride on tuition. It will attract a lot of attention to the university including national press.
- UIT startup professionals: Gavin Uhma is pumping out a new era of IT startup professionals into the region in conjunction with CBU already. Let’s keep it free, and expand it to 100 a year. Let the municipality come up with $x Million to help fund it, and do so with the help of North American venture capitalists who will take note of the program. This industry can be a savior to the area. Billion dollar ideas can emerge within 1–2 years in the IT industry. We need to just go for it.
#7 Crowdsourced House Demolition
As beautiful as our island is, we also have lots of ugly spots in our communities. We don’t have the money within our municipal tax based to demolish them.
Let’s have the CBRM government get on board with crowdsourcing. The community will participate in raising enough money over time to buy (at fair market value) and demolish these derelict or aging homes.
What is left is a open residential space for rebuilding a modern home. Yet the property values of the rest of the neighborhood will improve over time with these eye sores gone.
And we can stop having landlords take advantage of putting social assistance and other low income renters into adverse rental environments.
It can also create further demand for new home and apartment construction as we prune off old home supply.
We don't eat rotten fruit, and we shouldn't have people living in or having to look at rotten houses in their neighborhood. Let’s take them down one at a time. Asbestos, unlevel foundations, leaking basement spaces, shot roofs, aged plumbing, bad wiring, and total energy inefficiency is just not a good deal.
#8 PokerStars Branded Room at Membertou
Membertou shows great progress in building an entertainment destination. Let’s support them opening a poker room that licenses the Pokerstars brand to leverage in their tourism focused marketing.
The room can combine live tables along with computer poker stations to play at the online Pokerstars.com website.
It can also work to achieve a quarterly WSOP (World Series of Poker) sanctioned tournament that would invite poker players from the entire Atlantic provinces region to travel to the area to participate.
Gaming money is a fixture of our economy. Let’s do it better and give our tourism another factor to leverage.
#9 Free Downtown Taxi
We want to get people into our downtown core in Sydney. Some of the issues identified include weak public transportation options and lack of convenient parking opportunities — especially given our volatile and sometimes unfriendly Maritime weather.
So what if the Municipality in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, downtown vendors, and the port development initiatives put a program in place to provide free taxi rides up to a $10 value, and with the coverage area for the program ($10 geographic range limitations) clearly determined and fixed with local taxi services.
This would be two-way service, up to a $10 ride covered. Participating taxing services would be required to give a discounted rate as these would increase demand for their services.
It would help get people readily into the downtown core with a great incentive for doing so. Other destinations would not be provided and their would be fines for any fraudulent use of the program by taxi operators.
It would be ineligible during go-to, and leave-from working hours to discourage people from abusing it for work transportation. It is intended to be shopping transportation.
#10 Lyft Recruitment
Smartphone penetration is doing quite well in this region. The tourists that come here also have them. So it’s time to push forward into new technologies.
Lyft (like Uber) is a essentially an on-demand taxi service. We should recruit them to come into this smaller market by preemptively removing all regulatory hurdles for doing so.
Typically, they have to battle their way into markets because of old boy networks that are motivated to protect the taxi cartels.
Not only would they boost the experience of the taxi transport model, they'd encourage some of our other local providers to get better at it (no more soup nazi-like taxi call experiences).
They have to make the pink moustache be Cape Breton green! And, of course, that will be one of the speaking points in our prepared media one liners when the media hits ATV/CTV/CBC to promote our new attitude towards open arms to innovation!
#11 The Great Renters’ Escape Clause
We do have slumlords within our community, taking advantage of low (or no) income renters.
However, another issue with increasing rents and challenges for young people or those with low/unstable/seasonal incomes from getting their own home… is because active real estate/rental investors are gobbling up the best deals, doing some renovations, and putting people in them.
Would-be homeowners are paying someone else’s mortgage, when they could have the same homes often with a mortgage that would be more affordable than the rent they pay.
At the same token, these landlords provide a service to the community. They risk their resources and know how to make these rentals available and (in the best cases) renovate or modernize them.
But there is nothing, in theory, stopping the CBRM from using regulation to help shift the balance in favor of new homeowners and/or to harness new tax revenues. Lawyers, what say you?
Perhaps this can be done with a simple formula. E.g. Landlords must register. There are fines for not doing so ($10,000 per each year operating). For each single dwelling home that a landlord provides, after the first 2, they will be assessed a renters fee of $50–100 a month, payable to the CBRM as a cost of doing business within the community. This should be imposed only on homes for which they did not build themselves (were not the initial owner).
While initially, this could result in them trying to impose higher rents to compensate, it will also create greater demand for home ownership. If rents are too high, it makes sense for people to buy. If additional homes will result in fees, landlords may be discouraged from continuing to invest in old homes. If they shift their investments to new build projects or apartments, they can avoid the fee. They could also avoid the fee if they have the building audited to make sure it’s fully up to code, modernized, and energy efficient (out of pocket).
#12 Cape Breton International Tower — 40 Floors
A 40 floor building, overlooking the Sydney harbor that is an International extension of CBU (and/or NSCC) and other lease holding educational institutions, including a major English school — plus corporations.
It has housing designed for budget oriented accommodations of International students, and is built in partnership with the common countries where CBU draws its students, Federal and Provincial funding, and even International Crowdsourcing. Top floor is an entertainment venue featuring local music and all glass walls allowing the city and surrounding areas to be observed. How about “Flavour Floor 40”?
It also contains a full floor dedicated as a collaborative, multi-brand Western oil firm recruitment center for migratory workers, and facilitating preparatory certifications required to quality for such jobs.
Of course it overlooks the cruise ships, big fiddle, and the new houseboat harbor marina.
It’s paid for with Federal, Provincial, International partners (CBU students), the Chinese sister city/cities, oil company investors, NS Power (we'll give them office space), and our new friends at Amazon (because of the drone program) and Google (because of the self driving car program).
It can’t be any more of a long shot than our development as a major shipping container port. This is something our new friends from the Harbor Port Development Partners might even be interested in tackling.
#13 The Beautiful Ticket — Free Cape Breton Accommodations
A social media marketing team working in collaboration with tourism related agencies and the CBRM follows a very precise method:
- Recruit some of our most picturesque, magazine worthy rental accommodations (Baddeck, Ingonish, Mira River, Point of View Suites in Louisbourg) into participating
- Have the marketing team identify high profile/large audience bloggers and journalists in the travel industry and surprise them with “The Beautiful Ticket” — a package that welcomes them for a 5 day stay, travel and accommodations paid for at a selected location.
- No questions asked. These bloggers and journalists know what to do. Travel and accommodations is a small price to pay for the marketing value it affords.
The concept of the “Beautiful Ticket” should be not unlike that of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in absurdly cool presentation. Let them receive via Fedex a custom engraved Pewter ticket by a local artisan with their invitation. And after the first couple, make sure the media is made aware of how innovative the CBRM’s marketing programs are.
#14 CBRM Council Meeting Startup Pitches
At every on-camera CBRM council meeting, let them invite in one local startup founder looking to share their new business opportunity either for promotion or to recruit funding.
Give them the floor for up to 5 minutes, and let them promote their crowdfunding program.
After the meeting, the CBRM marketing rep will extract that portion of the video, and promote it on all of their marketing channels (Facebook, Twitter, and an email list).
Let them show that they support the local startup community. The costs are negligible. It’s just time and commitment to growing the startup community.
#15 CBRM Mayoral Transparency Model
The mayor’s office has been getting criticized for quite some time over their lack of transparency with the councillors and the community. This had been due to claimed NDA (non disclosure agreement) business proceedings where councillors have either been excluded from or notified only at the 11th hour of negotiations.
Rather than merely taking corrective course on these issues with communication and transparency, why not actually innovate in this area — going with unrivaled transparency and communication — not than just status quo.
With a mix of protocol and Social Media marketing know how, the CBRM could actually set a standard for other communities throughout Canada and the world:
- Commit as a matter of process that no NDA shall be signed with outside parties unless it expressly insists that the entire CBRM council is to be included for the purposes of exchange of confidential information. They are the watchdogs for each district, keeping us safe, and the mayor’s executive team in check.
- Develop as a matter of process a declaratory set of documents that comes with each engagement. It would disclose the nature of connections or past personal or business relationships between parties and the CBRM executives and councillors. It would also disclose background information on people that are engaged with the municipality in a significant capacity. For example: We would get to know much more about the background of the new Harbor Port Development Partners beyond the brief media bios that are provided by them.
- Commit to being engaged directly with the community via Social Media, on a weekly or biweekly schedule. Example: Every Friday morning, the mayor and each councillor commits to producing a quick video update on youTube with a commodity webcam ($75, Logitech). Their only goal is to give the citizens a description of significant events during the week and what they have been working on. However, this must then be shared actively and immediately on all local social media channels for the Municipality so that it gets maximum exposure. Only in that way do the citizens have the best likelihood in the modern era to be informed in what is going on and to spark discussion based on it. This fast and early feedback can help guide the CBRM leaders based on the more responsive input from the community.
#16 Your Idea
This is a brainstorm. Anyone can participate. Don't be restrained. You do not have to prove the feasibility or have the funding already lined up. You just have to share your ideas on outside of the box options for the future of this community. Have fun with it.
If you enjoyed some of the ideas or just thought they were completely out to lunch, send me a shout out on Twitter @joewardpr to let me know. If you don’t have Twitter, why not? Get innovating on a individual level. ;)