To Pump Life Into Economy, Province Looks to Tourism and High Tech

TOURISM and high-tech manufacturing are the twin motors economists here hope will power the sluggish Nova Scotia economy out of the doldrums.

The future they say is with companies like Tristar Industries in Yarmouth, that takes empty vans made by General Motors and converts them into ambulances. Then there is Hermes Electronics in Dartmouth that employs about 400 workers and makes sophisticated navigational and sonar gear. The company has grown fast as it has expanded nonmilitary sales.

"Nova Scotia has really diversified its economy over the last decade," says David Amirault, an economist with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council here. "A while ago fish processing used to be slightly less than half of all our exports. We've more than than tripled our exports of finished good, transportation equipment, and electronic equipment."

Provincial output will grow about 1.2 percent this year due to rising manufacturing, high tech, and tourism, Mr. Amirault says.

But that has not been fast enough to check unemployment that rose from 13.4 percent last year to 14.6 percent. About 27,000 people were employed in Nova Scotia's fishing and fish processing industry in 1990, though the number is thousands less now, Amirault says.

CANADA'S new prime minister, Kim Campbell, spoke to 500 fish plant workers in Lunenburg earlier this month in an effort to show her concern.

Although recession has ended in Nova Scotia, it is not exactly clear when a full-blown recovery will take root, economists say. There are mixed signals: Manufacturing shipments are up 3 or 4 percentage points while total exports have not shown any growth.

"Unemployment is the big problem," Amirault says. "It keeps rising, though we don't expect it to rise much further. But in terms of coming down, that's another story. I don't expect it to fall for two years."

One bright spot is tourism. The provincial slogan is "Come to sea for yourself."

And if you do, you'll find Nova Scotia is accessible by every form of transportation and laden with historical charm.

Much of it stems from the province's Scottish-British roots. The Halifax Citadel, for example, comes complete with actors who play the part of the 3rd Brigade of the Royal artillery circa 1869 or the bagpipe-playing 78th Highlanders, a Scottish regiment.

Only a short walk from downtown hotels, the Citadel is a fortified hilltop perch that once permitted England to guard the world's second largest natural deep-water harbor from conquest.

BUT if sightseeing is too tame, try rafting. Bill MacKay says his is one of only two companies in the world that takes tourists upriver rafting. That is possible, he explains, because the tides of the Bay of Fundy are the world's highest, rising and falling more than 50 feet daily. A geographical quirk placed the river's mouth at the end of the bay - in position to swallow a huge gulp of sea water every day.

As the tide pushes millions of gallons of sea water up the river, a wave four to eight feet high called a tidal bore rushes up the Shubenacadie carrying rafters with it.

Tidal Bore Rafting was begun 10 years ago by Mr. MacKay and he is been going strong ever since, charging $60 (Canadian; US$45) a person.

"People from every free country in the world come to raft with me," exults MacKay. "Many have done all the major rivers in the world and fly in just to do this. To my knowledge it doesn't exist anywhere else."

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