The CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce says there’s a lot of potential for the town of Outlook and the surrounding regional area, but it’s up to residents to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and help realize that potential if the area has any chance to thrive over the next few generations.
That was the message from Steve McLellan when the Outlook & District Chamber of Commerce hosted him for a special ‘Let’s Talk’ event on Monday night, November 19 at the Outlook Civic Centre. The event was recorded and live-streamed on the Chamber’s Facebook page, a helpful gesture for those who were unable to attend but who were also interested in the subject matter.
McLellan, who calls Regina home, has been CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce since 2007. He’s held several positions in the Saskatchewan business community, including 18 years with Tourism Regina and Tourism Saskatchewan.
His appearance in Outlook was to offer his insight and knowledge on what the town and area can do to better improve the opportunities that are on the table.
"Let me tell you, I think it's only great places that this community both is and can go," said McLellan.
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, which will mark 100 years in 2020, has always looked at the province with a three-pronged approach to reaching any community’s potential – factors that hopefully help a community reach its intended goals.
"'The Best Place to Live, Work and Invest' is our mission; we make Saskatchewan the best place to live, work and invest," said Steve. "For a business organization, often we get asked, 'Isn't your only concern about profits and losses?', and we say that we're interested in that, but we're also interested in the fundamentals, and that's making sure that it's a good place to live, a good place to work, and therefore will be a good place to invest."
A hot topic in this regional area that Steve touched on, and that the SK Chamber is keenly aware of is aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, which have the potential to do serious and irreparable harm to Lake Diefenbaker; damage that could significantly alter the fate of water in the entire province if not enough is done to spread awareness of the issue and take the necessary steps to ensure the lake stays clean and clear of such issues.
"I speak of this in this particular area because of the importance to the province of Lake Diefenbaker," he said. "It provides water to over three quarters of the people in the province, and not only from an agricultural or business perspective, but a residential one as well. If you do the math in your minds for a second and thought, 'What if every lakeside property in the province lost 20% of its value?' What would you say if you and your kids couldn't walk the shores in bare feet because the shells wash up? What would you say if Lake Diefenbaker, like Lake Winnipeg, was dead below 25 feet? You'd say that isn't the future that you want. We don't have them in the province now, and we've got a plan in place through the government if we do get them, but we can't be late in the game. Lake Diefenbaker is one of our crown assets in this province, and it's absolutely mandatory that we keep it fresh and fantastic, and not just for the boaters, not just for the great steelhead trout, but also because we rely on it for power and for irrigation purposes. This is one of our key resources and we're not focused enough on it, and I think we need to be."
McLellan touched on the provincial economy, sharing his view that things are better than some may believe.
"Our economy overall, while doing quite well, I would still describe as settling out, but people are still nervous," he said. "They're not doing the investment that they used to because when the economy was sky-rocketing while they were frustrated by not having enough staff, they were spending money like drunken sailors, and when you're a prairie province and people are acting like drunken sailors, it's an interesting time. Now, things are better than if you watch the suppertime news. The businesses who don't focus on what the media tells them, and instead focus on what their customers tell them, they're better off. They're focusing on growing, building their customer base, enhancing their staff capacities and their overall productivity, finding new markets, and those are the people growing their business with new products and new offerings."
Steve says that negativity from naysayers is one key thing that harms any community, and that it’s important to look instead to leaders who are doing what they can to improve things.
"There's the one group of people in this country who focus on their efforts to be what I call the 'Chicken Little Sect', and those are the people who sit in every town, and sometimes have their hats tilted a little to the side, and they can tell you for hours what's wrong," he said. "My point to you is not to focus on what they're saying, but instead on the people like your Chamber board who are building this community and this province. Leave Chicken Little out of the conversation, and you're going to have a much better day."
McLellan also touched on what he’d like to see being done in the area to improve in areas such as irrigation:
"Fifty years ago, the dreamers who built Lake Diefenbaker said that it could irrigate just about the entire province, and we're not living up to our potential there," he said. "Full credit to our irrigation expertise, but we've got to figure out how to make that better. There's a new program happening through the federal government about climate change mitigation and adaptation. It's a $2 billion water fund, and I'd encourage your community to look into that. There are opportunities there, and our MP in the cabinet, Ralph Goodale, is exceptionally interested in this file. Make sure you've got champions to protect that lake."
As well as ag value being added:
"There has been history here with pork production, and there's potatoes now with different varieties over the years, and it's got to be more than just pulse crops," he said. "Twenty years ago, none of you had heard of quinoa or kale, and nobody would think of fried sweet potatoes, so you don't know what the food interests are going to be, and other countries are providing that opportunity. We should just simply grow it, or as we've done with others like canola, develop it here. When you hear of a farmer investigating this sort of stuff, get interested and encourage them to do it and check in on them. How'd you like to be the person who said, 'Yeah, I developed that.'?"
McLellan wrapped up his talk by encouraging people to get promoting Outlook and what it has to offer, or the things that make it unique. Positive change and improvement is something that starts at the ground level.
"You have the responsibility, and I would argue the opportunity to tell the world, to tell people, including your friends and relatives at Christmas what a great town you have," he said. "You have the most expensive bottle of scotch in the entire province, you have some amazing pastries, and most of all, you've got a great Chamber of Commerce led by great people that will help this town do amazing things."