I went for a short visit to Quebec City this weekend. My wife and I stayed at the Chateau Frontenac (we had coupons left over from our honeymoon), took in the sights and bought a lot of wine. While there we had a number of discussions about why rural Canada seems to be doing better than rural America. On Canadian television some Canadian politician was talking about how the Canadian economy is no longer in decline. All around Quebec factories were chugging away. It was strange to drive north from northern New Hampshire to find a thriving economy, because I’ve always looked at the region’s northern location as the big hurdle to success.

What are ingredients for a robust economy? We drove through Sherbrooke and Coaticook yesterday, one with its thriving industry and a bustling economy, the other with its pastoral surroundings and cute downtown. What have they got that Berlin is missing? I know the traditional answer of a highway appeals to some people, but that doesn’t strike me as enough. Berlin was an export town for a century—the roads didn’t all the sudden disappear.

And Coaticook, with its one hotel, made me worried for Berlin. I’d been there before on a bicycle tour, so I knew it was a cute little town next to a beautiful gorge. We could break up the drive between Quebec City and home, I thought, and visit another side of Quebec. But pastoral countryside and a stunning gorge haven’t resulted in tourist infrastructure. The only hotel was a run-down place next to a grocery store; instead of paying $75 for the night, we opted to drive home.
If that place hasn’t built the infrastructure to accommodate tourism, I have to question whether Berlin can. Again, like the Sherbrooke example, the mix of factors that led to the current state of the town aren’t clear to me, but it throws up big flags as to what the viability is for this model.

But I do have to say we drove through Berlin at about 8:30 last night, and the Budget Inn was packed. I was amazed, and my wife asked if maybe some of the people lived there. I didn’t know, but it seemed a good sign that people might look at Berlin as a place to spend their vacation. Again, I don’t know the truth there, but the mix looks like its getting better, which hopefully means good things for Berlin.

4 thoughts on “Quebec

  1. Erik,Since I mentioned the Budget Inn a few nights ago at the council meeting, I have spoken to several people about it. I have been informed that the Budget Inn houses many individuals on a short and long-term basis, turning it into a low income apartment building of sorts. Some have suggested that the city's welfare department contracts with them for short term solutions while helping them with apartments. (I have not had the time to verify this.) I understand the need to turn a profit, so I can't blame the owners for turning to this business model as a solution… but it is unfortunate because while it may keep the occupancy rate high, it prevents out of town visitors on business or recreation trips from staying here, and spending here. It further cements the image of "run down mill town" into peoples minds….which we are working to change….it is very frustrating from a marketing point of view. (The best marketing is word of mouth… this is killing us in that department.) How many times a day, a week, or a month does this happen? 20? 40?, 100? 100? I have seen statistics from Google stating that 1600 people a month search the term "Berlin NH Hotels"….. how many of these people might actually stay here? How important would these visitors be to local restaurants, gas stations or main street shops? VERY IMPORTANT. I'm sure if I spoke with Sylvia, Stacey, Rayleen, Dick, Scott or any other business owner on main street and told them 500 or more potential customers would be coming through there stores every month, they would be ecstatic.You said it yourself…. you were willing to stay in Coaticook but did not because the motel next to the supermarket (sound familiar) was not suitable for you and your wife…so you kept driving…….With that said, the problem with most ideas in Berlin is that there is no economic feasibility behind them. Don't you think there would be a Comfort Inn near downtown if it could be profitable? I'm sure there would be. I've changed my opinion slightly after talking with some people about the Budget Inn…. Come to think of it, there is a need for the low cost, very low service, long term, apartment type motel….(When I lived in Keene there was actually a couple of them, but there was also many very nice options for the traveler.) I don't think investing in the Budget Inn really would help long term…. it would just make it a little fancier for the HUD clients and I believe visitors and business travelers would still avoid it…..the real solution is to work with entrepreneurs etc in creating an alternative….. I admit it would have to something small at first…maybe an Inn or a Bed and Breakfast….. but if we are to succeed with the 21/21 initiative it needs to be addressed, and SOON…..otherwise all the rock climbers, ATVers, hunters, fishermen, bicyclists, kayakers, hikers, snowmobilers and skiers that we hope to draw here will continue to spend all there money in Gorham….Hope you had a great vacation….. Talk to you Tuesday.Ryan Landry

  2. Erik, I'm quite familiar with the towns and cities you talk about in your post since I've had relatives in almost every one of those communities. The rural areas are very different than ours because agriculture is an important economic sector in Quebec Province. The farmers are proud of their farms, they paint their names on the barns and you don't see old tractors and other junk piled up in their barnyards. Coaticook has a healthy mixture of agriculture and manufacturing and they never made an effort towards tourism and that's why the infrastructure isn't there. They do quite well with the Gorge and Park, I've been there when there were bus loads of visitors from other parts of Canada. There's something you missed on your trip, a frank conversation about their healthcare system. We in the US are being fed the propaganda that their system is second rate when in fact statistics show that they do better than us in most areas of healthcare and, at a fraction of the cost. Just this past weekend I had friends from Sherbrook visiting and they were telling me about how they can't believe the lies on TV about their system by American politicians in Washington. "Listening to them you'd believe we have people dying in the streets" they remarked. So Erik, the next time you visit our northern neighbors bring me along, I'll help you discover that Canada is not the backward place that we're made to believe it is. Those pastoral towns you speak about are not just "cute" as you state, most of them have broadband to every home, something we're yet to see in northern New Hampshire.

  3. Norm and Ryan –Thank you both for your comments. Pertinent and appreciated.Jon –I'm getting about 1,500 hits a month, about 50 a day, but as Ryan pointed out to me the other day, that includes him hitting refresh about a dozen times. I've got about half that many consistent readers and another 50 that check in from time to time.Thanks again for commenting.

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