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Estevan chamber celebrates business success and history

The South East Success Summit and a celebratory banquet were part of the day.

ESTEVAN - The Estevan Chamber of Commerce had a full day of activities during its 120th anniversary celebrations on Thursday.

The chamber spread out its activities over two locations, with the Southeast Success Summit at the Southeast College's Estevan campus in the morning and afternoon, and a banquet at the Beefeater Plaza in the evening. Chamber executive director Jackie Wall said there was more than 70 people at the summit and approximately 90 at the banquet.

"The goal [of the summit] was to have a positive conversation about success in the southeast, what we have experienced, what we are experiencing, and the success that we can have as we move forward, how we can work together to do that, or what areas we need to perhaps look at supporting in order to have continued success," said Wall.

The summit kicked off with a speech from Community Futures Sunrise general manager Andria Brady, who spoke about their Go Digital Sask program that is impacting rural entrepreneurs throughout the province.

In the first Southeast Stories of Success panel, David Hammermeister of MNP chatted with oilfield entrepreneurs Ken Wallewein, the president of Western Fiberglass Ltd. and the past president of Apex Distribution Inc.; and Jeremy Mack and Cary Wock, co-founders and directors of Innovative Artificial Life Solutions Inc. They were also founders of Independent Pump Co. Inc.

The final morning session was Community Changemakers and the Creation of a Tourism Destination in southeast Saskatchewan with Trevor Keating of South Saskatchewan Economic Partnership.

In the afternoon, John Aron Bacon, the Business Development Bank of Canada's manager for its Business Centre in Regina, provided a look at business growth and cost control to help safeguard profits amidst rising costs and inflationary pressures.

Gordon More, the executive director of the Southeast TechHub, explained how innovation can create jobs and is opening new possibilities for the southeast business community and employees.

The event concluded with the second Success in the Southeast panel. Wall spoke with Estevan MLA Lori Carr, Community Futures Sunrise regional economic development co-ordinator Christina Birch, former Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan, and Weyburn Chamber of Commerce manager Monica Osborne.

Other speakers were Pipeline Online owner Brian Zinchuk, who discussed the potential for lithium in the area, while Heather Blouin with Tourism Saskatchewan talked about opportunities for promotion.

"The southeast has so much to offer. There is so much potential here, and we really just need to do what we have done in the past – be resilient, be open to new innovations and ensure that we all get involved in the economic future of our region, whether that be something as simple as shopping local and local procurement, or as large as taking a look at attracting new industries and businesses."

Wall believes it was important to have so many people in the same room, discussing and moving towards the same goals.

The evening banquet had two main speakers, Premier Scott Moe and McLellan. Moe noted that the chamber was started the year before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905, and he stressed the importance of small and medium-sized businesses throughout Saskatchewan.

"It's those very employees and the owners of the small businesses that come together to build our hockey rinks and build our halls. They're very much the heartbeat of our communities, whether they be villages, whether they be towns, or whether they be cities," said Moe.

Small businesses play an important role in the economy, employing 30 per cent of the province's workforce, the premier said.

He also noted that in the past two years, Saskatchewan has exported more than $100 billion in goods.

"Some of that is new goods, some of that is more goods, and much of that is value-added goods. And that is allowing us to climb the value chain when it comes to our ag industry. We're climbing the value chain when it comes to some of the products we see in the energy industry."

Moe said he wants his kids to have the opportunity to stay in the province, and younger generations haven't always had that chance.

"That is what drives me to go to work each and every day is to provide that next generation, to provide our children, with that opportunity."  

Chamber president Denise Taylor briefly addressed the crowd, and after the premier spoke, two 4-H speakers – Reed and Luke Vandenhurk, both from the Cymri Beef 4-H Club – regaled the crowd. Reed discussed his love of Lego, while Luke spoke of pheasant hunting.

McLellan, who retired as the provincial chamber's executive director two years ago, said he is always eager to speak about chambers. He asked the crowd to envision 120 years ago when a group of mostly men discussed the need for a board of trade in Estevan.

"What was it they were thinking about? What was it that brought them together to form that effort?" asked McLellan, who noted the chamber's board is now mostly women, and its staff are women. Its a common refrain throughout the province, and he said that's worth celebrating.

"Would those people who sat around a room, not probably too far from here, wonder what Estevan was going to look like in 2024? Would they have imagined you as a group of people as a community, as a chamber, as a business community, standing shoulder to shoulder in 120 years?"

Prior to coming to Estevan, McLellan spoke with former chamber members and presidents about what they think makes Estevan and the chamber unique.

"Each of them spoke with great passion about the chamber of commerce, the success that it's had, and how they believe, as individuals to their core, that businesses, for their own benefit as well as that of the community, need to be part of this chamber of commerce."

McLellan cited the example of Ray and Doris Frehlick and Prairie Mud, who were inducted into the Saskatchewan Business Hall of Fame in 2016. In 1965, the Estevan chamber was recognized for being the best in Canada for communities under 110,000 people. More recently, Wall was selected as the chamber executive of the year in 2022 for chambers under 500 members.

McLellan is confident the city will continue to prosper. Estevan has been through the energy boom and bust cycles, and it is going through an energy challenge that will change the city.

A display in the plaza had photos of the chamber's history, and a video celebrated the organization's past.

Wall hopes the summit can be a biennial event that would run in years opposite of the Estevan Business Excellence Awards.