SUMMERSIDE — In his first official speech, Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce president, Jonathan Greenan, said the community should be concerned about the growing exodus of young professionals from the area.
Greenan, who was sworn in during Thursday night’s 114th annual President’s Dinner at the Loyalist Lakeview Resort, called the trend alarming.
“My Three Oaks graduating class has gone on to succeed in a wide variety of fields,” he said, noting former classmates include doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers and various other skilled tradespeople, professionals and small business owners. “The only down side to all that accomplishment is not nearly enough of them are here with us tonight, or even still in Summerside for that matter.
“How much better off would our community be if these people in their mid 30s were here buying homes, operating their own businesses and spending their money at yours?”
Greenan said, historically, youth have always left for bigger and better things but the rate of exodus in recent years is only increasing, something that the Chamber and all levels of government must work together to stop.
He said the community is known for overcoming significant challenges, referencing the closure of CFB Summerside, which was followed by the opening of the Summerside Tax Centre and the establishment and growth of the aerospace industry.
“To ensure that Summerside has a solid future to grow our tax base, increase your business’ profitability and, most importantly, have good full-time jobs available for this year’s graduating class at Three Oaks and all future graduating classes to come, we need to add multiple Vectors into our private sector,” said the new chamber president. “We can’t rely on our traditional and seasonal industries. We need to innovate to bring new businesses and new jobs here.”
The chamber, he believes, has an important role to play in ensuring growth in the community, first by lobbying government to adopt policies that help attract investment then selling those opportunities to its membership and working with educational institutions to ensure that skilled workforce is at the ready.
Greenan noted that the chamber also has a lot of work to do to in 2014, referring to a decline in membership and project revenues in 2013 that left the organization with its first deficit in recent history.
“To reverse these trends… I really believe we need to better demonstrate the value of chamber membership. I think that is where we have fallen short,” he said. “I really believe that being a chamber member has something for everyone, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.”
New blood is vital to the chamber’s growth, adding that there are many new faces on the 2014 executive.
Joining Greenan are president-elect Mark O’Keefe, first vice-president Nancy Beth Guptill, secretary Tara Snively, treasurer Chris DesRoche, past president Patrick McSweeney, along with directors Scott Jay, Georgia Ellis, Sheila Bell, Blake Waite, Catherine Arsenault, Ellan Dickieson, Gordie Montgomery and Dan Kutcher.
Also during the evening, Scott Jay was presented the Volunteer of the Year Award.
During the dinner, Egmont MP and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea spoke about her government’s recent budget and its path to balancing the books by 2015.
She said balancing the budget is key to economic growth in this country.
“We believe that hard-earned money should stay in the pockets of families and entrepreneurs,” said Shea. “Low taxes, positive and targeted measures for economic growth … and balanced budgets – that’s the right combination and the right path for economic growth.”
She also detailed some of the new initiatives contained within the budget, some, she noted, that will positively impact small businesses.
Shea spoke about the proposed Canada Apprentice Loan, which would provide access to interest-free loans for a period of technical training; proposed improvements to the Youth Employment Strategy; and proposed funding to support internships for post-secondary graduates in high-demand fields.
“Actions taken by the government has positioned Canada as an increasingly active place to invest and grow a business,” she added. “Small businesses, in particular, are crucial to Canada’s long-term prosperity, and that’s why we continue to invest significantly in small businesses.”
Shea noted more money is being put into improving infrastructure and transportation services; that the Gas Tax Fund Transfer is now permanent and money through that fund will be available for a wider range of projects; and that proposed Small Communities Fund will provide $1 million in funding to municipalities with a population of 100,000 or less.