Nova Scotia, the most easterly province in continental Canada, is known for its scenic lakes and hiking trails. But recently it has also been making a name for itself thanks to the investments it attracts. Between 2008 and 2012, Nova Scotia recorded steady growth in the number of crossborder projects it attracted, putting it in fifth place in the country, behind much more populous provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

“We have an educated workforce and we are the gateway to North America, with outstanding harbours in Halifax and elsewhere in the province,” says Mike Savage, the mayor of Halifax, Nova Scotia's capital, explaining the factors behind the province's recent success. “We work on improving our business climate. The status quo is not an option for us,” adds Cecil Clarke, mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the province's second biggest municipality after Halifax.

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Other draw cards for businesses include Nova Scotia’s 20-plus post-secondary institutions, including 10 universities, while its seaports have an annual impact on the local economy estimated at more than $1.5bn, according to the Port of Halifax. But without the help of Nova Scotia Business Inc (NSBI) – a private sector-led economic development agency – many of the province's assets would remain undiscovered.

Taking a punt

Take, for example, Frontier Developments, a gaming company headquartered in Cambridge, UK. Founder and chief executive David Braben learned about Nova Scotia's potential for software and IT companies for the first time in 2008 at a gaming conference in Montreal. And while conferences such as this typically serve as a pitching ground for economic developers, the exact place of Nova Scotia's presentation was anything but typical: it was held in a taxi when Mr Braben accidentally found himself sharing one with an NSBI representative on his way to the airport. Fast-forward five years, and Frontier employs almost 30 people in its Nova Scotia office with plans to double that number by the end of 2014, according to David Walsh, the company's chief operating officer.

Apart from pitching in taxis, NSBI's out-of-the-box way of promoting itself includes sliding Halifax Times, a mock-up, old-school daily paper outlining the city's assets, under the doors of participants of the hedge fund conference in Hamilton, Bermuda, and organising a ‘pink slip’ party in New York in 2008, bringing together professionals from the finance sector who lost their jobs in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The main force behind these initiatives is Stephen Lund, an economic developer who took charge of NSBI in 2001. “When I was offered this job I made it clear that I am not interested in politics. All I want to do is business,” says Mr Lund, who states that he modelled NSBI after IDA Ireland, an Irish governmental economic development agency that he admires for its “aggressive and effective approach”. Looking up to others seems to be paying off. The number of new investments launched in 2012 in Nova Scotia tripled compared with 2011, according to fDi Markets.

IBM win

One of the most recent high-profile wins secured by NSBI is IBM's 500-person strong Global Delivery Centre in Halifax, announced in November 2012. Gerald Lawson, NSBI's director of information and communication technology, who was directly involved in the talks with IBM, says the competitive site-selection process took three years, and lists one of the hardest tasks as “trying to get [IBM] to look at Nova Scotia as a location”.

Once it did, however, the province did well showcasing its charms. “We were extremely impressed with the open, collaborative environment in Nova Scotia and this is something that really stood out among other areas we looked it,” says Dave McCann, associate partner of global business services at IBM.

“We make it easy for businesses to select Nova Scotia. When investors come here for a day or two we put them in touch with a lawyer, an accountant, universities or whoever else they need to set up their business. And then hopefully when they sit down to make a decision they have all questions answered and all dots connected to see the value for their business here,” says Harvey Doane, NSBI’s director for the defence, security and aerospace sectors.

As well as defence, security and aerospace, Nova Scotia’s most promising sectors for investment are software and IT, biotech and financial services, according to NSBI. Consultancy KPMG recently recognised Halifax as the fastest growing hedge fund administration cluster in the country. “We compete against much bigger cities. But what attracts hedge fund administrators here is our strong value proposition as the nearshore solution for financial firms,” says JP Robicheau, director of financial services at NSBI.

Happy with Halifax

Nova Scotia is succeeding in attracting not only investment, but also talent. “We had a great life in the Cayman Islands,” says Ben Rivard, who moved from the Caribbean to Nova Scotia in 2007 to work at Butterfield Fulcrum, a hedge fund administrator recently acquired by Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Banking Corporation. “But together with my wife we decided it is time for the next step in our lives. We could go anywhere. I had job offers from places such as Switzerland and British Columbia, but we decided to settle in Halifax. For young families such as ours, Halifax – a safe, friendly place – is perfect,” says Mr Rivard.

Not all talent stays in Halifax though. After 12 years of heading NSBI, Mr Lund left the agency in July to manage Bermuda Business Development Corporation, Bermuda's investment promotion entity. Speaking to fDi a week before assuming his new position, Mr Lund says that it is a chance for him to “leave when things are absolutely at the top”. NSBI, however, will stay track, assures Ron Smith, the agency's interim CEO.

"Our mandate is clear, to bring new jobs and investment to Nova Scotia,” says Mr Smith. “We succeed when our clients choose Nova Scotia, just as Butterfield Fulcrum [Mr Rivard's firm] did recently when it announced an expansion of 150 new jobs. As always, its new employees, right here in Nova Scotia, will get the job done and done well."