Big plans take flight at Halifax’s airport

When she was 12, Joyce Carter daydreamed about working for an airline. As a teen, she inherited a keen interest in business from her father, a small business owner. And on March 11, 2014, Carter’s childhood aspirations came together when the Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA)—operator of Halifax Stanfield International Airport—named her president and CEO.
After several important roles within the HIAA, including CFO and chief strategy officer, a promotion to the position of president and CEO was the next logical step. And the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s president and CEO, Starr Dobson, thinks that she’ll bring plenty of great qualities and skills to the role. Carter’s position as vice-chair of the foundation has given her the opportunity to work closely with Dobson on a regular basis.
“She’ll certainly bring thoughtful consideration and strategic long-term planning to the role,” says Dobson. “She’ll bring a personal approach to the job, and she’ll consider everything before she makes a decision, and everyone that decision will impact, because that’s how she is with us.”
Carter says a collaborative, transparent relationship with her staff is not only important to her as a leader, it’s also kept her engaged since she started with the organization. “Everybody is about delivering an experience to our shared customers,” explains Carter. “We have a common cause that you can feel throughout the fabric of the whole organization. When I first started here, I thought ‘OK, it looks like a great opportunity. I’ll go for five years and see what it’s like.’” Fifteen years later, she’s heading up the organization, and she’s thrilled to be doing it.
Tom Ruth, previous president and CEO of the HIAA, and the current president and CEO of Edmonton Airports, is enthusiastic about Carter’s promotion. “It’s not the kind of job you can just put someone in with the expectation that they’re going to do well,” he says. “A wide breadth of experience is in aviation and airport management is a huge plus and Joyce brings that.” He worked closely with her on a number of critical projects. They tackled one of those big projects in 2010, while planning the future of the HIAA. During a strategic planning session, they realized that, to make their vision happen, they needed to go after some additional financing.
According to Carter, there’s a lot to that process. Once they decided it made sense to take on more debt, they had to decide on a term, where to place the money, and whether they were going to issue it privately or publically. Their objective? To get a long-term rate of under 5 per cent.
In the end, under Carter’s leadership, they placed a 40-year bond at 4.888 per cent, which, at the time, was the lowest rate achieved in Canada for any long-dated aviation money. “We were quite proud of that,” says Carter. “It felt really good to secure the finances we need for our future, and to do it at the lowest rate of any aviation money placed in Canada.”
And this is just one piece of an impressive financial track record. Ruth said that the entire time he worked with Carter, the airport maintained an A+ credit rating. This rating is still in place today. “Joyce and I made a great team because she is one of those rare individuals that not only look at the bigger picture, but also has a excellent ability to pay attention to the important details.”
In her new position, Carter will continue to tackle major projects, including the development of a new aerotropolis, which the Halifax Stanfield International Airport’s 2012 Economic Impact Report defines as a “gateway destination that could support over 750,000 square feet of new office, convenience, destination, retail, and other space.” ( defines an “aerotropolis” as an airport city that sometimes stretches up to 30 kilometers away from the airport.)
Since this new development is coming at a time when Halifax’s councillors and planners are focused on reducing sprawl and increasing connectivity, this project has sparked plenty of discussion, with residents posing challenging questions on social media and organizations expressing concern.
“It’s a pretty controversial project,” says Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. “Everyone I’ve talked to, including councillors, businesses, and other organizations, have a lot of concern about the size and scale of what the HIAA is looking at doing.”
Carter says that the development aims to serve the 5,400 people who work at the airport and the thousands of travellers who pass through the area, plus provide revenue that will help the airport reduce fees and attract new air services. “We would have the types of things that are common at other international airports,” says Carter. “Like a family restaurant or a place to board your pets while you’re travelling. These are the types of things that employees have told us they want.”
And according to Carter, taking care of her community is one of her priorities. After all, growing up in her Cape Breton community, she watched her father closely as he ran his own pulp contracting and landscaping business. “The most important thing I learned from my father is that hard work pays off—that no one hands anything to you,” Carter says. “For a number of years, the community that I grew up in relied heavily on government promises that didn’t always come to fruition. I realized that I wanted to do something that would make a difference, and watching my family run a business that gainfully employed a number of people in the community felt good.”
And it’s her dedication to maintaining a strong community that drives a lot of volunteerism. Carter sits on the boards of Dalhousie University and the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, and chairs the Halifax Gateway Council. “She’s completely, in my opinion, revitalized the HGC,” says Ruth. “It’s so important because it brings in the government from all three levels and it brings in all modes of transportation—rail, truck, air, and port. It’s become a much more cohesive voice for Halifax logistics business under Joyce’s tenure.”
But despite all this, MacKinnon thinks that the new development could cause more harm than good, affecting business in Dartmouth Crossing, Sackville Drive, and downtown Truro. “We certainly wish Joyce the best and look forward to working with her,” he says. “But I think for this particular project, we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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