Bio centre key economic driver, says Dykstra

A big piece of St. Catharines’ economic recovery puzzle fell into place this year — and there’s more to come, says the city’s federal representative.

Conservative MP Rick Dykstra said his look at the year ahead sees the limelight set to focus on downtown. But he said the biggest piece of the puzzle will be Brock University’s new biosciences centre, slated to open next year.

“That is the key one,” Dykstra said in an interview Thursday. “It stands out above any other.”

He believes the school will help steer the city’s future direction and act as an incubator for local businesses.

The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex, a research and graduate teaching facility, is one of the projects fuelled by $68 million in stimulus cash pumped into the city between the federal and provincial governments.

According to the Brock website, the centre “will forge new economic partnerships between research and industry that will foster a new economic cluster in advanced health studies and biomanufacturing in Niagara and beyond.”

The city’s facelift has been about six or seven years in the making, Dykstra said, but the signs were there in 2011, and there’s more to come in 2012. Included are another stimulus project — the parking garage on Carlisle St., still to be opened — and ongoing work on the city’s performing arts centre and the adjoining Brock school of fine and performing arts.

“I think the downtown, obviously, is going to be a huge focus in the community and where we’re going,” Dykstra said.

“I really believe that you’re going to continue to see a change just in the pace of life in St. Catharines.”

Nationally, among the biggest changes of 2011 for Dykstra was the Conservatives’ change to a majority government in May’s election. That contest reduced the Liberal party to a 34-seat rump and ushered in the NDP as the official opposition.

Dykstra said two successive minority governments taught the Tories a thing or two about how to govern responsibly.

He singled out health care as a priority in the months ahead, particularly spending cash wisely in that sector. And he said the country still has to continue climbing out of the abyss of recession.

We’ve started to bounce back from the economic crunch, he said, but the recovery is fragile. He said he saw a litany of positive signs locally, from the biosciences centre to the launch of a new transmission line at General Motors’ Glendale Ave. plant in 2012.

And he noted the city has been gradually whittling down its unemployment rate month by month. He said he’s hoping to see that number drop below the national average.

“I think we’re at the edge of the forest here,” Dykstra said. “We’re way past the clearing of the trees.”

But this year, Dykstra can look forward without looking over his shoulder.

“For the first time, I don’t have to look forward to an election in the spring or the fall or late summer,” he said. And he said the year ahead comes with “lots of opportunity.

“I’m certainly looking forward to 2012,” he said. “In this business, there’s no rest for the wicked.”

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