Business Voice: Apparent in Foresight

Lokapriya Jena, Business Voice, February 2018.

Halifax is the Next Singapore

Two years ago, as I was walking out of a boardroom having successfully concluded a presentation and my CEO commented, “Good job Jena, so what’s next?”

That simple question changed everything for me. I was successful, happy and felt valued where I was but that moment made me ponder what I really wanted to do next and where I wanted to go in life. This mid-life question would reveal more over time. The quest for a new beginning germinated.

The decision to relocate to Canada and start fresh became the focus. Canada stood out in comparison to other countries for being diverse, inclusive, respectful of fundamental freedoms and embracing equality.

I explored various cities in Canada when I discovered this place called Halifax. Until then I did not know that this city existed. I started researching Halifax — its economic landscape, its history, its people and its character. What I learned amazed me. Beyond the historical backdrop of this province, I realised its potential and what it has to offer to the world — I wanted to become a part of this growth story.

I heard Halifax calling me and I have chosen Halifax to be my new home. I see myself as a key contributor to the growth and success of this province. Today, Halifax is the vibrant and prosperous capital of the East Coast, but that is not enough. Halifax should not be constrained by comparing itself to other cities in Canada. Halifax should be compared to cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Hamburg or Oslo.

Five decades ago, Singapore was a tiny third world city-state with a nascent government, small domestic market and high levels of unemployment and illiteracy. Today with a population of a little more than five million, Singapore has transformed into a highly developed and successful free-market economy, home to the world’s highest number of millionaires per capita and the world’s highest income levels. This is because Singaporeans started thinking long-term, adopting meritocracy and focusing on small wins. Halifax has its own share of challenges but also has so much to offer to the world. We are strategically located between the two richest markets of the world and our time zone lets us conveniently and simultaneously cater to both. Similarities exist and we should use cities like Singapore as a model to strive for success. Five critical factors would take Halifax to its deserving position on the world map: people, investment, momentum, reputation and timing. Halifax is already in growth mode with more cranes dotting our skyline and more economic activity than ever before and it is increasingly becoming a popular immigrant destination.

So, how do we transform Halifax to become the next Singapore? We need a common vision. A vision to move Halifax onto the international stage. Our people and our leaders need to pledge to transform, collaborate and deliver a comprehensive path, devise programs and align policies to market Halifax to the rest of the world. There is nothing holding us back except our own lack of confidence. We must believe that we can compete with the big-league players.

We need to establish international connectivity to major cities around the world to attract trade, investment and immigrants. We need to create a co-working business space for startups and big businesses alike. We need to retain the talent we produce out of our universities. We need to plan our infrastructure and housing to accommodate more and more people. But, Halifax already knows this. It seems to me, as a new immigrant, that Halifax is on the precipice of becoming one of the world’s great cities.

I have come here with an open mind to help transform my new home into a global hub. I am part of Halifax’s growth story.

There is only one potential downside to all this ambition. That we may fail. However, even if we fail we would still move forward. I am a firm believer that one small step forward can start a movement. Now is the time. The world is waiting for us. Let’s get to work.