By  on April 17, 2008

Job growth and retail development boost a charming old town.

When people think of this city in Quebec, fine French cuisine, European style and a joie de vivre unlike anywhere else in North America might spring to mind. But it also is home to the third-largest garment industry on the continent, behind New York and Los Angeles.

While factory closings continue, the industry still accounts for 17 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the city and one-third of all garment production in Canada, employing more than 30,000 workers. It includes fur garment manufacturing, which continues to resist the lure of offshore production. In addition, the North American Fur & Fashion Exhibition, being held here April 29 to May 2 at Place Bonaventure, is considered the third most important fur fair in the world, after Hong Kong and Milan. It's also the largest international industry trade show in Canada.

Another important show is Techno-Mode Expo, being held May 14, the only Canadian supplier showcase and industry conference examining technology and logistics solutions for Canada's fashion and apparel industries, reviewing planning, forecasting and replenishment, design and merchandising, product development and sourcing.

The Montreal Urban Community, which includes more than 30 boroughs on an island 31 miles long and 10 miles wide in the middle, was originally settled by four major ethnic groups: French, Irish, English and Scots, represented on the city's flag with a fleur-de-lis, shamrock, rose and thistle, respectively. French is spoken by some 80 percent of the population, although most people in the city are bilingual.

With four universities, it attracts many students eager to live and learn in a different language or continue their education in English while enjoying the city's vibrant spirit.

RETAIL RISING

Montreal is the second-largest retail market in Canada after Toronto and has diversified its economy to the point where a recession in one industry is not catastrophic to the whole region. Unlike the neighboring province of Ontario, which is heavily dependent on the auto sector for its well-being, Montreal boasts a buoyant aerospace sector and pharmaceutical heavyweights such as Merck Frosst, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as software development and extensive film production.Retailing in the city is vibrant. Sales reached $41.3 billion last year, up 4.2 percent from 2006. The area's largest retail development is taking place on a former General Motors assembly plant in Boisbriand, 15 miles northwest of the city. Called Faubourg Boisbriand, it already features more than 550,000 square feet of midsize and large department stores open for business. In the next few years, the project will grow to more than 1.2 million square feet, housing about 120 retailers, according to the Faubourg's retail coordinator, Sylvain Tessier.

"The first phase is mostly big-box stores. The second phase, being built now, is called the Fashion Village and features about 65 percent fashion boutiques and 25 percent restaurants."

But expansion is happening on a smaller scale, too — some examples are local designer Marie St. Pierre opening a second boutique in the Rockland Shopping Center in the city's north end, while Touch of Me knits and high-end lingerie retailer Josephine recently opened downtown.

To grow efficiently, the city unveiled a plan called 2025 to manage development for the next 17 years, with 130 projects now on the drawing board at costs of billions of dollars. Included are two new super hospitals and expanding Montreal's Pierre Trudeau International Airport and McGill University, while others include new retail space in their mix.

Tourism is also an important industry to the Quebec city, attracting more than 7.3 million visitors a year and pumping $2.6 billion into the local economy while employing 51,000 people.

And with 2.5 percent job growth in 2007, the Greater Montreal area ranked first among the top five Northeastern metropolitan areas in offering new positions, ahead of Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

In North America as a whole, Greater Montreal ranks fourth among the 20 most populous metropolitan areas in terms of employment growth, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

RIGHT AT HOME

Despite a weakening manufacturing sector and slightly higher mortgage rates last year over 2006, Montreal's housing market remains strong. In 2007, 43,543 houses were sold in the Greater Montreal area, an impressive 12 percent rise over 2006. All regions in the Montreal area reported sales gains, and with average prices of just $218,000 for a single-family home, Montreal is a bargain compared with the rest of Canada, where the average price across the country is $313,000."The increase in transactions, combined with an inventory of properties for sale, contributed to maintaining a market that advantaged sellers in 2007," said Michel Beausejour, chief executive officer of the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board.

The rise in sales was in all sectors and all types of property. "During the last few years, the strong residential real estate market has been sustained by positive job creation, good consumer confidence in the economy and historically low interest rates," he added. "As a result, the price of properties in Greater Montreal has doubled since 1998."

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