Northern CB Development Society forging new economic development plan
Engaging youth seen as key to area's future
The second of a two-part community meeting regarding the economic future of northern Cape Breton took place at the Cape North Culture Centre on July 30. District 8 Municipal Councillor Norm Macdonald was present, as was Ketih Bain, Mla-victoria-the-lakes, and Victoria County Economic Development Officer Patrick Austin.
Northern Cape Breton Business Development Society (NCBDS) member Rob Macdonald and Ray Fraser, Chair of the Seawall Trail Society, facilitated the meeting. Macdonald set an optimistic tone for the meeting by responding to concerns about similar past initiatives failing to progress.
“Not going to happen this time!” he said.
Fraser anticipated shyness from the 21 participants but whatever hesitation there was quickly gave way to open discussion. By the end of the meeting, several sheets of easel paper were filled with participant input concerning impediments to economic sustainability in the region.
Points raised included a decline in tourism infrastructure, exodus of young people, poor employee retention, doctor shortages, school closures, lack of amenities, not to mention the harsh winters.
“It’s getting harder to be here. My age group is getting tired of organizing stuff. If we don’t hold onto our winter population, we may as well stop the conversation,” remarked Margrit Gahlinger of Bay St. Lawrence.
Many agreed with Aspy Bay resident Ron Nikkel that northern Cape Breton is underutilized for winter tourism. Outdoor enthusiast Andrew Stevenson envisions north of Smokey as a “mecca for backcountry skiing” and feels confident young people could readily promote the activity.
With assistance from Patrick Austin, plans are already underway to support northern Cape Breton’s youth population in launching new businesses. The hope is to offer business fairs and courses to high school students on preparing business plans and basic accounting methods.
Prior to the July 30 meeting, NCBDS identified services lacking in the area which could translate into small business opportunities. Hairdressers, barbershops, painters, plumbers, and carpenters are needed year-round and are in higher demand with summer residents.
“The concept would be to encourage local small business people to think of multiseasonal small businesses to support not only tourists, but residents as well,” said Macdonald. “It’s seems to me one has to approach a small business in this area with a diversity of perspectives on what the opportunities are.”
Discussions from both meetings have been summarized into a document containing “concerns” and “actions”.
“We’re in the process of consolidating a working group of individuals so we can take on as many of these actions as possible,” said Macdonald.