The latest Antigonish Chamber of Commerce Business Connect Luncheon event, held Dec. 12, took place at St. F.X.’s Keating Centre, which was a very appropriate venue considering the guest speaker was university president Kent MacDonald.
MacDonald presented on the economic impact of the university, for the town and surrounding county, and did so using a report released in September by Dylan Gallant and professor Greg Tkacz (The Economic Impact of St. F.X. on the Nova Scotia Economy).
“We all know about the importance of the university to the culture and fabric of our community, but the positive economic impact sometimes flies under the radar,” chamber president Dan Fougere said, as he followed MacDonald at the podium.
“We’re particularly pleased you’ve chosen this chamber luncheon as a venue for, publically, sharing this informative report.”
Fougere continued on to talk about partnerships.
“In many ways, today is a symbolic of the growing spirit of collaboration amongst the various stakeholder organizations in our community,” he said.
“As we look around the room, we have representatives from the university, the town and county of Antigonish, provincial and federal government agencies, Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation and, of course, our business community.
“The Antigonish Chamber of Commerce shares your enthusiasm for the many strategic initiatives underway at the university. The university’s plans are very supportive of the advocacy and economic growth initiatives of our chamber.”
In talking to the Casket after the event, Fougere reiterated his point about the economic impacts of the university not being touted enough.
“When you look at $400 million a year in economic contributions, $3 billion over five years, those are big numbers,” he said, quoting figures MacDonald referenced in his presentation.
“St. Martha’s Regional Hospital is one cornerstone and the university is another; they really put this town in a good stead, not only for today but for many years to come.”
MacDonald talked about the university as a partner in the region.
“As I said today, St. F.X. is only one part of a solution to ensure Antigonish and the counties remain prosperous, but we’re an important piece,” he said.
“Fundamentally, St. F.X. exists for teaching, learning and research and we need to continue to work with these business leaders, and they need to take advantage of the opportunity that is going on, at the university, right now,” he said, referencing ongoing construction work around the campus.
Fougere noted Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation as one of the stakeholders at the luncheon and that community’s connection with the chamber was strengthened recently with the appointment of Rose Paul, director of economic development at Paqtnkek, to the chamber’s board of directors.
Both Fougere and Paul noted it’s a connection that was “overdue.”
“It’s probably something we should have addressed earlier but, as we drive down the [Hwy.] 104 each day and see that commercial development taking place, you can’t help but realize this is going to have a tremendous economic development impact on our area,” Fougere said, referencing the highway interchange and commercial development project, at Paqtnkek.
“We want to have her voice at our table; not only in appreciation and recognition for what she has done, but for what she can contribute to our business community in general. She’s resourceful, full of data, energy and we want and need her on-board.”
Paul, recently named individual economic development office of the year by the national CANDO (Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers) organization, said she appreciates the appointment and understands its significance.
“It’s definitely an honour and it’s great they’re learning the dynamics and opportunities to expand our relationships,” she said. “[Learning] how this project is going to benefit the overall economics in our area.
“This is an opportunity for us to all move forward, together, and continue to build relationships. It’s important everyone understands the benefits of working with us … it has been a long time coming.”