With news reports often emphasizing the slow economic recovery with respect to jobs, it is possible that we lose some perspective about some legitimate success stories. National unemployment rates often overshadow the work of some communities in transforming their economic profiles. Cities like Raleigh NC have transformed their economy and others like Des Moines IA have significantly lowered their unemployment rates. Another below the radar screen example is Québec City, Canada.
Observe the latest unemployment statistics from October 2010: United States: 9.6 percent; Canada: 8.1 percent; Ontario province: 8.2 percent; Québec province: 7.9 percent; Québec City: 4.7 percent. Québec’s capital city, the so-called government town, has the lowest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada.
In itself, that is a story. But what is more significant are the facts. Québec City has had consistent growth due to its increasingly diverse economic base. When I worked in Québec City in the early 1990s, it was accurate to call it a haven of public service jobs. Now it is becoming a leader in information technology, biomedical research, defense research, applied optics and photonics research, food technology research, brain disease research, etc.
Québec City actually has the largest number of university researchers per capita in the country and leads Canada in terms of research funding and scientific publications. Add to this the financial services sector, transportation, real estate, construction, and tourism and we are far from a government town. Just as Washington and Ottawa, as government cities, gradually became more diversified economically, so has Québec. And its results are nothing short of spectacular.
The reason for this turnaround has been the result of citizens, politicians and businesses working together with a sense of civic pride and entrepreneurship. The recent 400th anniversary celebrations did much to transform the city into an outward looking urban center attracting businesses, ideas and people. Before, we could portray the typical visitor to Québec City as one who wanted to capture a bit of Europe in a North American setting. Its spectacular scenery, dining delights and numerous tourist attractions remain ever so present, but business and opportunity for investments are now becoming an even greater attribution.
Its economic development agency, Québec International, a forward-looking and daring mayor, Régis Labeaume, and an array of ambitious projects dominate the Québec City agenda. Québec City may actually bid on a future winter Olympic Games and pursue an NHL franchise. It has just been ranked in the top 21 intelligence communities in the 2011 Intelligent Community Award. The many colleges and world-renowned Laval University complete the picture of an innovative, knowledge based urban setting.
There are numerous illustrations depicting the role of cities, the importance of urban planning and the development of new knowledge-based economies as a path for a better economic direction. But in the case of Québec City, we can add low cost operating advantages, a high proportion of university graduates, a high quality of life, competitive tax advantages, and the capacity to operate in French and English.
Indeed one should not be surprised to see Québec City emerging as a rising star north of the border.
*John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Québec's Delegate General in New York, the province's top ranking position in the United States.