Mario Caissie, Vice-Chair of the ONB board, comes from an entrepreneurial New Brunswick family. He is the current President of MACC Commercial Properties, a family-owned commercial real estate company founded in 1996 that now has properties throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario.
ONB sat down with Mr. Caissie to get his thoughts on the state of the province and its future.
ONB: First, tell us about your background and how you came to be part of the ONB board.
Caissie: I began working for Imperial Manufacturing Group in 2002 as a member of their finance team. I became President of the company in 2012, leading operations in Canada and the United States. I left Imperial in 2016 to join MACC and have been there working in real estate development since. In 2017, I received a call from Roxanne Fairweather, then Board Chair, and she asked if I was interested in joining the board – I certainly was. I met with her down in Saint John, had a great conversation, discussed ONB’s strengths and areas that may need improvement, and if my skill set could help. We decided I could be a good fit.
Coming from a family with business roots here, how optimistic are you about the province’s future, particularly as it relates to the growth of our firms on the world stage?
I’m very optimistic, and I think we all should be. This province has so many great strengths. All the things ONB highlights – innovative spirit, talented people, agility, and world-class infrastructure – are our prime advantages. Like every jurisdiction, we have pain points, but I think we’re well-positioned for growth, maybe even higher GDP growth than the rest of the country.
Our biggest challenge remains population growth. We can address that with an aggressive approach to immigration, and we’re doing just that. We recognize the value immigrants bring to our businesses and our communities, and companies like Tech Mahindra are bringing great talent here as a result.
How do you see New Brunswick’s successful response to COVID-19 playing out in terms of economic development? How do we build on it, if at all?
The media has actually done a lot of that work for us thus far, we’ve been rightfully recognized for how well the province has dealt with COVID.
Post-COVID-19, I feel like more people are realizing Atlantic Canada, specifically New Brunswick, is a gem of a place to live. We really do get things done here. We also recognize that access to affordable housing is a must if we’re to accommodate newcomers. It’s a hot topic, and I think we will be able to address it and successfully bring more great talent to the province in the process.
I think there will be a continuing shift away from brick-and-mortar office spaces. Even now, across the continent, people still don’t know how to get offices fully operational due to limited elevator capacity, distancing, etc. People are working from home more, and as a jurisdiction with lower costs of living and a great quality of life, we can benefit from that trend.
It’s going to be tough, no doubt. We can’t just hop on a plane right now and travel as easily as we could before the virus. So, we need to be more aggressive in our online and digital platforms, with email, etc. We can and will continue to bring world-class companies to the province. Our advantages haven’t changed in the new normal, they’ve only been made clearer.
Are there specific areas in which you think New Brunswick is well-positioned to attract new foreign investment?
Aquaculture is a sector worth watching. Phenomenal local businesses like Cooke are doing great things, but it doesn’t have to stop at local companies. We can and should court more foreign companies to come and work in that sector. Our geography makes us an Atlantic Canadian hub for easy distribution. We are perfectly located to receive containers in Saint John at the port. We’ve got great airports; Moncton for example can accommodate cargo jets. Demand for fresh seafood from markets like China has risen, so they’ve invested in expanding the cargo infrastructure there. This is a great place to move product from.
Advanced Manufacturing is a traditional sector that needs continued focus too. We’ve got great manufacturers here, and some incredible grads coming out of our engineering programs to feed them new talent.
Beyond that, I think our strengths remain in sectors like ICT, cybersecurity, timber, and agriculture. What’s interesting about agriculture right now is the increase in people thinking more locally. They want to support local producers more than ever. In terms of food, we are an import-dependent province – there’s opportunity there.
Can you speak to the opportunities and upside for New Brunswick businesses as they seek to invest in new technologies and productivity?
As talent becomes scarce you really have no choice but to invest in productivity improvements. I think as a province, we’re still a bit behind in lean practices so there’s some opportunity there. It’s not the large manufacturers in this case. Smaller manufacturers that have never been exposed to lean manufacturing practices, that’s an area we should focus on. Some smaller companies have a tougher time investing in these productivity upgrades; that’s where ONB can help. This can be robotics, actuators, or any equipment or technology that can help save on labour costs, increase efficiency, improve safety, etc. ONB has placed a strong focus on productivity and I think that’s the correct play.
What gets you most excited about New Brunswick’s future?
The health of our major centres has me most optimistic. Labour market is tight, but that means people are investing in housing and real estate development, so there’s a lot of positives. COVID-19 hit us like the rest of the world, but before the pandemic, there was plenty to be happy about. We’ve seen the quickest recovery in the country here so there is no reason we can’t continue to attract more great companies here who will bring great people here with them.
We have already shared the experiences of several New Brunswick businesses succeeding in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’. In the coming weeks, ONB will continue to tell the stories of companies already at work building the new New Brunswick we envision.
Keep an eye on this space as well as our social media channels as we begin rolling out these success stories.