Membertou First Nation
As a First Nation located near Sydney, Nova Scotia, Membertou First Nation represents a cutting edge innovative business approaches focused on the enrichment of the Membertou community as well as the Sydney community, through understanding its own business strengths and long term goals.
Membertou owes its name to the Grand Chief Henri Membertou, a leader of the Mi’kmaw nation in the 1500’s. Located outside of Sydney, N.S., the community consists of roughly 1,260 people, led by the Membertou government.
Membertou has been continuously developing its corporate side, focusing on its long-term goal of financial independence from the Government of Canada.
Membertou’s drive for financial independence and development of a strong business side within the community started in 1995, when the Chief Terrance Paul, Chief of the Membertou community of 29 years, realized that the community was continuously struggling with unemployment and low morale due to uncertainty and negative outlooks for the future. This is when Chief Paul started his work building a community with a constructive business outlook and positive image.
Chief Paul unified the Membertou government and business through a shared work ethic and dedication to the community. Today, the Nation emphasizes creating employment opportunities, education for children, and supporting the economic growth of the Membertou First Nation on and off the reserve. “My attitude is that you should never give up, keep focused on your goal, and success will happen,” says Paul. By creating new business opportunities and attracting new business, Membertou creates a strong client base for itself as well as surrounding communities, including Sydney.
While the corporate side of Membertou First Nation offers a diverse portfolio of business investments, real estate development became Membertou’s core business focus at this time. Membertou Trade & Convention Centre has been a definite success, and a diamond in the Membertou real estate portfolio. The centre’s success is due to the fact that when the convention centre accommodates an event, it fills Membertou hotels as well as hotels in Sydney.
Hotels, the business development centre, restaurants and offices represent additional items in the Nation’s real estate portfolio and Membertou successfully filled all the buildings built, creating an encouraging growth outside Sydney — a key development factor.
Mike McIntyre, Membertou’s CFO admits that Membertou business focus on real estate created a somewhat unique situation. “The more development we do, the more land values rise, and the more it costs us to buy additional land.” He admits that this is an encouraging problem because, while the land becomes more expensive, it proves that the land development is successful.
However, Membertou First Nation is not just interested in its own success, and finds equal importance in enriching the entire community and its surrounding areas. This means working hard and bringing business development to other areas across Sydney.
Membertou has created many jobs within the community, and these employment opportunities have spilled out into Sydney as well. Membertou gladly offers employment to surrounding communities, adhering to its strong belief that by enriching the surrounding communities the entire area will benefit.
“We’re not here to compete with Sydney, we are here to bring more business to the greater area so we all benefit. We always say that the better Sydney does, the better Membertou does. Our relationship is complementary rather than adversarial,” says McIntyre.
Developing a highly successful business is a difficult job to begin with, but Membertou also has to deal with the additional challenges that come with operating as a ‘First Nations’. As a First Nation, Membertou has been facing challenges in regards to project funding when seeking bank loan.
“Because of the Indian Act we are not able to put up the buildings on the reserve as securities for loans. As a result, Membertou cannot obtain large, long-term loans from the banks, and we have to make due with far shorter terms — between five to seven years. These finance terms have greatly restricted what we can accomplish,” explains McIntyre.
To overcome this problem Membertou forged a partnership with the First Nations Finance Authority, an institution built to provide First Nations and Aboriginal governments with the same finance instruments that other Canadian governments have at their disposal. Using these services gives Membertou the ability to access long-term loans for infrastructure and subdivisions development and address the housing needs of the reserve.
Recently Membertou attained ISO 9001:2008 classification through demonstrating consistency in providing results for customers and aiming to consistently improve its methods and services. The ISO classification has given Membertou an even stronger presence in the business community.
Membertou has its sights set on several promising projects. The first project is a large highway project that includes the construction of an interchange and an overpass on the reserve. These will connect to the Trans-Canada Highway and link the highway to Membertou. Membertou will also work to build a twin pad ice skating rink. While the local communities have been in need of a new arena for quite some time, without Membertou’s support this project would not take off with such speed.
Membertou knows that having an eye on the future is just as important as remembering the past, and to drive the future Membertou remains focused on its main goal — reaching financial independence while garnering an even larger reputation in the local business community and across Canada.