A varied group of businesspeople and government officials have informally joined forces to accentuate the positive in Hay River.
The group, which calls itself Change the Conversation, is the brainchild of Tom Colosimo, the regional superintendent with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, and Donna Lee Jungkind, the town’s deputy mayor.
“Part of the conversation that Tom and I were having is, yes, Hay River has changed quite a bit over the last five, 10, 15, 20 years, but there’s a lot of maybe negative stories out there,” said Jungkind. “We wanted to promote and focus on the positive, because there is a lot of positive. So instead of just kind of mentioning that, we thought, well, let’s try and actually do something about it.”
Jungkind and Colosimo appeared before Hay River town council on Aug. 17 to explain what their initiative is all about.
Colosimo said there’s a slight downward trend in the economy and there was some negativity around the strike by unionized municipal workers.
“You’re hearing more about businesses closing than hearing about businesses opening,” he said. “We thought that ITI could assist the town and the chamber in, perhaps, how can we change the conversation.”
Colosimo said the group is not a committee.
“It’s kind of a collection of people who want to discuss certain items of interest with regard to the community’s economic development,” he explained.
So far, the initiative involves ITI, the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, some members of town council, the Hay River District Education Authority, the Department of Health and Social Services, retailers, the community’s two MLAs and large employers such as Kingland Ford and Rowe’s Construction.
The group has already held a few meetings – it gathers every second Thursday – and has even developed some goals.
“We’ve developed a bit of a project sheet that includes developing community confidence, increasing retail sales, and developing new businesses and services and business support,” said Colosimo.
There are also long-term strategic goals such as seeking dredging of the harbour and working with businesses on big-picture items like mining.
For example, members of the group recently attended a public meeting on the proposed Thaidene Nene federal and territorial parks on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake to represent business concerns.
Another of the group’s ideas is to introduce the entrepreneurship-promoting Junior Achievement program in schools.
“It’s a program that starts at Grade 3 and goes right up to Grade 12,” said Jungkind. “Basically, the hope with that is to try to develop workforce, because that is one of our big issues in the community. And to try to promote entrepreneurship, which is another big issue in the community.”
Other ideas include promoting Hay River as a home for mine workers, encouraging shopping in Hay River by residents of surrounding communities, naming a business of the month, and restarting a Welcome Wagon program to help introduce new residents to the community.
“They’re all kind of different, but they’re all the same thing. We’re all trying to promote Hay River and move Hay River forward,” said Jungkind.
Colosimo said there are tangible benefits that can come out of the Change the Conversation initiative, noting that anyone participating has to take on specific tasks to promote various ideas.
Jungkind invited other members of council to become involved.
“We could definitely use some help if anyone is interested,” she said.
There appeared to be interest from some other council members.
“I look forward to seeing the initiatives you guys come forward with,” said Coun. Keith Dohey.
Coun. Kandis Jameson also expressed support, saying it was great to hear of the effort.
Following the meeting, Mayor Andrew Cassidy said that Change the Conversation is not an official committee or initiative of town council.
“We’re not involved in any kind of lead capacity,” he said. “It just so happens that one of the councillors was involved with kind of getting it started.”