ECONOMIC GARDENER BY JACK KYTE
I believe Pictou County has had it too easy for a long time.
Michelin Tires with 1,000 jobs. A call centre that stayed open longer than its original commitment. A pulp mill that has pumped roughly $1.5 billion dollars into the economy over the past 20 years alone (my conservative estimate which is probably low). An amazing group of innovative metal fabricators employing several hundred people, a progressive regional hospital and Health Foundation. Canada’s leading grocery retailer. MacKay Meters exporting worldwide. Information technology companies like Velsoft and WebBuilders marketing across North America and internationally. We are known for our excellent trucking companies. We have forest related businesses, coal mining, farming and fishing industries and a very active tourism sector. We even have an ocean port, airport, access to an excellent highway and rail service.
I worked in Queens County for 10 years. It is a county with less than half the population of Pictou County and it was dependent on one primary industry, Bowater Mersey Paper Company. The loss of “Mersey” has been hard to swallow and you have to tip your hat to the people in Queens who are fighting back to diversify their economy. I suspect they would look at Pictou County with a certain degree of envy.
Yet to many in our local area and our friends in the big city, Pictou County seems to be on its knees. The announcement that Michelin is closing a tire line, the closure of the Convergys call centre and the community action against Northern Pulp have made headlines across the province and beyond. These are all things that none of us want. But before we wave the white flag, let’s step back and put some things in perspective.
The Michelin plant in Granton is still one of Atlantic Canada’s leading manufacturers and an excellent employer and is committed to Pictou County. Hopefully Northern Pulp will resolve its environmental issues with a long-term plan for continuing improvements and public involvement. And let’s be optimistic we can find a business to establish here to the benefit of the Convergys employees.
I see these recent events as a wake-up call. Jobs are precious and we need to do whatever we can as a community to preserve the health of our citizens and support a diverse and growing economy. This is worth doing. It is not a time to be pessimistic about Pictou County. We need to pull together more than ever. Our community and business leaders need to set aside a degree of self-interest and act for the overall good. We need to get our pride back and build on our strengths, of which we have so many.
The best example of leadership I have seen in recent months is that shown by Chief Andrea Paul of the Pictou Landing First Nation. She has a goal to improve her community. She has a long-term perspective and is making very difficult and complicated decisions for her community. She involves her people every step of the way. We can learn from Chief Paul.
The events of recent weeks have branded Pictou County as a bad place to live and work. We all know that is not true. Let’s find a way to turn this around. The Chamber of Commerce will do what we can to make it happen. How about you?
Jack Kyte is executive director of the Pictou County Chamber of Commerce.