“How can you be sitting in these meetings as a volunteer while your company is technically bankrupt?” It was a most poignant question, directed at me by Irving Schwartz during an executive meeting of our organization. I had no ready answer other than that volunteering to make our world a better place came naturally to me.
Through my involvement with Eastern Carbide Tools and The Cape Breton Offshore Trade Association it was clear to me that the Cape Breton economy was in deep trouble. So when I received a call from Jim MacCormack of the City of Sydney to join the founding committee of a grass roots organization dedicated to the economic well-being of Industrial Cape Breton, I accepted.
Over a period of three years, Vision: Community Initiative for Regional Development as it came to be called, grew to encompass over 100 representatives from the eight local municipalities, the University College of Cape Breton, the United Mine Workers of America, the United Steelworkers of America, the Board of Trade, local clergy, provincial MLAs, our local MP, and some existing economic development groups like New Dawn Enterprises. We gathered these diverse perspectives at symposiums held in the facilities of the Canadian Coast Guard College to explore and debate comprehensive solutions to the economic decline of the region.
My role in the organization also expanded. Once we incorporated as a non-profit, the founding committee I joined morphed into the organization’s first Executive Committee. Then after securing funding from the federal Department of Regional Economic Expansion, we were able to open an office and hire full time staff consisting of a receptionist and three researchers. As my engagement with Eastern Carbide Tools was winding down, I was able to take on the role of Managing Director full time.
(1985 article in the McLean’s Magazine Archive)
Our young staff developed numerous innovative proposals that were put before the executive and other members of the organization but sadly never came to fruition. After leading this effort for two years it became painfully apparent to me that none of the so called “stakeholders” in this organization were actually unemployed.
Indeed, in their own way they all had a subtle, and no doubt unconsciously protected, stake in the status quo. The MP and MLAs were always at hand when a minister came to the region for another ribbon cutting. The college was busy providing retraining to the laid off workers. The unions found purpose fighting the continuous threat of layoffs. The clergy brought comfort to the economically devastated and the local merchants were relatively free from the competition that comes with a growing economy.
So, before the comfort of a monthly salary was able to nudge me into a similar frame of mind, I left the organization to return to my entrepreneurial roots.