“A perfect storm of economic disaster waiting to happen”.
That is the phrase used in a recent interview to describe the economic situation in Antigonish. You will forgive me if I take umbrage with this description.
Truth be told, I hadn’t heard the interview personally until the day of this writing. It took place during the Community Contact segment of CBC Radio’s Information Morning on June 25th of this year, and I was unable to listen in. But in the days since, I have been contacted by numerous individuals expressing their shock and dismay at the catastrophic tone in the interview – so much so that I had to track down the interview to hear it myself. I now understand their concerns.
In the interest of full disclosure, I consider the Community Contact to be a friend of mine. She has been a good friend of this Chamber of Commerce and a strong advocate for Antigonish, has provided excellent correspondence in the past in her role as Community Contact, and indeed, even reached out to me to prior to the interview to ask if I had any specific concerns, and I provided her with one.
I cannot understand, however, why she would provide such an apocalyptic view of our great town. If I may paraphrase the great Mark Twain: The report of Antigonish’s death has been an exaggeration.
It is no secret that St.F.X. is a huge economic driver in this community. The strike was an undeniable disruption to the status quo of this town, and the job losses that were recently announced are indeed very damaging. But what of the recent announcement of the planned creation of the U4 League between St.F.X, Acadia, Mount Allison, and Bishop’s, and the doors that could open because of it? Is it not worth mentioning that St.F.X., while currently struggling with very difficult times and decisions, is simultaneously trying to position itself to be a front-runner in the future?
And, it is no secret that the new section of highway that has opened is creating great uncertainty for this upcoming year. The Chamber has heard, anecdotally, that some businesses are reporting decreased business already, and that it is perhaps due in large part to the new highway. But we have also heard from businesses who are having excellent years.
And yes, a clothing store is closing on Main Street, but what of the one that is about to open, not to mention the two other clothing stores that have opened within the past 18 months? And what of the two new restaurants that have just opened on Main Street within the last two months and another that has opened within the past year, not to mention two new pubs that have revitalized their locations.
I think of two Chamber of Commerce members who have just been awarded TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence for their consistent achievements in hospitality. I think of another Chamber member who has just celebrated their one year anniversary by being featured on Eastlink Magazine’s “Nova Scotia’s Best” in the “Slowfood” category. I think of a Chamber food vendor in the mall who has recently opened a second location on Main Street. I think of the emerging bluefin tuna touring companies in our area. I think of the new rowing club and facility in Lochaber. I think of the bike shop that has opened downtown, which coincides with the ambitious development of a world-class four season sports and recreation facility at the Keppoch.
I think of the sheer achievement of hosting the longest running Highland Games outside Scotland, now celebrating its 150th year. And I think, as well, of an Antigonish business man who has just been inducted into the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame.
There can be no denying that Antigonish is in a state of transition. There is uncertainty at our university, an important economic partner. There is uncertainty in the impact of the new stretch of highway that sidesteps our town. There is uncertainty in our economy and the global economy. It is important to be ever vigilant on these and all matters that affect Antigonish business. They cannot be dismissed.
But it does us all a great disservice to have our focus on all the things that are not as we want them to be and then concluding that it leads to an inevitable doom. “A perfect storm of economic disaster”, if you will.
On the night I was sworn in as president of the Antigonish Chamber of Commerce, I told those in attendance that we were entering uncertain times. The new highway, the dissolution of the Antigonish Regional Development Authority, the labour situation at St.F.X, these and other things combined to created a cloudy future. But I told the crowd that in the midst of uncertainty there often lies opportunity, as the interviewee well knows, as she was the emcee that night.
I believe that today, as I did then. And I see from the people striving in this town making their businesses all that they can be that I am not alone. The Antigonish Chamber of Commerce is doing all it can to help make this area the economic haven it deserves to be and will continue to do so.
It is important to discuss the issues facing an area. You cannot ignore the unfavourable matters about you and hope they go away on their own. But by the same token, you cannot make them your sole focus. It is equally important to highlight the successes and potential that you see about you. It is only in this balance can you find the opportunities available.
Antigonish is in a state of transition. It will take vision and cooperation, but I am of the opinion that Antigonish will be able to transition just fine.