ESREN celebrates Mulgrave membership at AGM in Guysborough

GUYSBOROUGH: With several of its member municipalities now re-examining their participation, the Eastern-Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN) was pleased to welcome Mulgrave into the fold in the run-up to its recent annual general meeting.

The ESREN gathering took place on July 11 at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Conference (CLC) in Guysborough, just over a month after Mulgrave Town Council voted to join the organization, which also includes the Towns of Port Hawkesbury and Antigonish, the County of Antigonish, and the Municipalities of the Districts of Guysborough and St. Mary’s.

“It sort of rounds out our region,” ESREN executive director John Beaton told the CLC audience as part of his annual report. “As we speak, they’re being incorporated into our database.”

Mulgrave’s arrival marked a sharp contrast to the recent fortunes of the ESREN. In March, the other five member municipalities submitted letters of intent to leave the organization, with Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton suggesting in late June that her council expects to make its final decision on the matter this coming fall.

ESREN officials in attendance at their annual general meeting did not address these actions but instead played up their current activities, including entrepreneurial-promotion activities such as last fall’s Start Up Port Hawkesbury competition and a working group struck in late 2016 to concentrate on development of the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation (SCSC).

“Within port development, we had some big progress this year,” reported Beaton, who added that the ESREN wishes to launch a specific plan of action for the Strait area’s shipping industry.

“We’re not interested in any more studies. We want to take what’s been done and figure out how to put that in motion.”

Beaton added that the ESREN is also hoping to soon hire a development officer for the Town of Antigonish, and he stressed the organization’s desire to establish the town as a true business hub. While an ESREN proposal to create a “Business Improvement District” for Antigonish was ultimately voted down by town councillors, Beaton was optimistic that the resulting discussion will help pave the way for new initiatives involving the ESREN and its Antigonish activities.

The meeting’s guest speaker, Antigonish-based businessman and philanthropist Steve Smith, praised the regional enterprise network model for its success in northeastern Nova Scotia.

“ESREN supports businesses in our area, and it is truly a rural organization,” Smith declared, adding that these qualities will help stem the tide of young entrepreneurs leaving the Eastern-Strait coverage area and reverse the region’s aging population demographics.

The former owner of the Central Group of Companies also pounded home the need to showcase the positive aspects of running businesses in the ESREN coverage area as opposed to highly-competitive urban areas such as the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

“People ask me, ‘How did you [achieve such success] in the boonies?’ We had great loyal customers, we had great loyal staff, we had our own ideas,” Smith recalled of his decades of business operations in the region.

“You can start and run a successful business anywhere, but I believe it is easier in ‘the boonies.’”