It’s Canada’s largest apprenticeship trainer. It’s in our neighbourhood, and it just got bigger.

In September, NAIT opened its newest facility on the corner of 118 Ave and 106 Street. The five-storey Centre for Applied Technologies is NAIT’s largest building—roughly the same size as Kingsway Mall. It increases enrollment capacity by 1,700 students in four programs.

While the addition revs up polytechnic training in Western Canada, it also adds to NAIT’s benefits on the ground. The community continues to get an injection of diversity, with 2,000 international students from more than 80 countries. Businesses in the vicinity benefit as well.

Adam Hajar, co-manager at Donair Way in the Park Plaza Shopping Centre, said they’ve always had a strong customer base of NAIT students and staff.

“From ten in the morning til four in the afternoon, we get students and even lots of teachers,” Hajar said.

Once a NAIT student himself, Hajar knows the importance of access to a fast meal.

“They want something quick, food that is good, filling,” Hajar said. “We get line ups of just students. They want a donair and a drink and then out the door.”

And another new facility is coming—NAIT’s Productivity and Innovation Centre, opening in 2018.

According to a staff member at The Duck Taphouse and Grill across from NAIT, their business relies on NAIT’s patronage almost exclusively, which means their numbers drop during the summer.

“If NAIT weren’t here, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

It’s not as clear what NAIT’s impact is on business outside its immediate vicinity. Retail managers said the impact doesn’t go much beyond the traffic circle at 101 Street. Canadian Dollar Store, about 10 blocks away, gets no discernable student presence, while Fix My Phone, a cell service outlet on 101 Street, gets quite a few. Dave Dhaliwal, manager at Pizza 73, said he serves up both pizza and employment for students.

“We’re connected in two ways. Students come as customers, and they drop in to ask about part-time jobs,” said Dhaliwal.  

Managers at two pharmacy franchises said NAIT made no difference to their business, but one commented that the campus does bring benefits when it comes to things like infrastructure and the higher profile from a leading polytechnic.

NAIT may have a greater stimulus in the housing sector. While older apartments in Westwood aren’t seeing an influx of students, newer ones are. Helena Burgess, on-site manager for an older apartment on 103 Street, said they don’t get NAIT students.

“A lot of students live in basement suites or in the newer apartments. They want the new places,” said Burgess.

A manager with Mainstreet Properties, which runs several upgraded or new multiplexes in the area, agreed, explaining many NAIT students seek short-term rentals every fall.

Burgess said NAIT is a definite boost to the community. Before the parkade and the more recent additions to campus like the HP Centre, Spartan Centre and Petro-Canada Centre, the neighbourhood was more derelict.

“Now, it’s exponentially better. People care for their properties. I recommend people to move here now.”

Header image: NAIT’s new CAT building on 118 Avenue and 106 Street is the size of Kingsway Mall and provides room for 1,700 new students.| Kate Wilson