Economic Turnaround For First Nation Community

Waycobah, NS, Dec. 14… No it’s not Membertou, it is a small, rural First Nation community in central Cape Breton, on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is called Waycobah, to some, to others it’s called Whycocomagh. “The Future Has Come to Waycobah”, said Chief Rod Googoo, as he proudly took us on a tour of the new commercial development in his community. “We realized that we had to go out into the world. We’re not waiting for things to happen.”

Waycobagh Tims-Dec 2016“Five years ago, we didn’t have any of this. Now our people are working and they see opportunity,” said Chief Googoo. “This turnaround is not just good for our community, it is good for all Cape Breton.” He pointed outside to all the traffic, especially trucks working in his community and said, “There are many non-natives as well who benefit and get work as a result of his community’s new found success.”

Chief Googoo said his band have reduced the cost of social assistance to its lowest level ever. The community has a population of 1,000 and of the 450 working aged residents on the reserve, 420 are working. That included our young people, who unlike in the rest of Cape Breton, are staying home.

Chief Googoo brought his business background to managing his community. When much of Cape Breton is at a standstill, this small, rural, First Nation community is forging ahead, taking on new business ventures and creating jobs.”

The new economy in this small First Nation community includes this new mini mall that opened in early December. Located on the TransCanada Highway, this mini mall employs about 50 people and includes a gas bar, convenience store and Tim Hortons. Chief Googoo said there are some 27 workers at the new Tim Horton’s and 20 of them are from his community.

Whether you are just stopping for gas or a Tim’s or a tourist on your way to tour the Cabot Trial, this Fist Nation community is in a great location, half way between Baddeck and the Canso Causeway. The Trans Canada highway passes through the community, which sits between the mountains and the Brad d’Or Lakes, not far from where you start the Cabot Trail.

With a large smile on his face, Chief Googoo then spoke about another very successful business in his community. The band started its own security company, called First Alliance Security. This band owned company employs 40 guards, with another eight waiting in the wings. They have security contracts with Northern Pulp, Port Hawkesbury Paper, the Bear Head LNG project, and on the Maritime Link, both in Newfoundland and Cape Breton.

alyssa-phillips-rod-8cdbabFishing is a big part of the economic turnaround for the community. Last year the community purchased a 68 foot trawler that fishes year round. There is also the seasonal fishery for snow crab and lobsters and eels. Chief Googoo was especially excited about their new trout farm and processing plant. This trout farm venture made the band $1 million in gross revenue with a 20-per-cent profit last year. Next year, the band hopes to triple sales. The Chief says there are more than 100 from his community working in the fisheries.

Another economic opportunity the community is pursuing is tourism. The band is developing a tourism information kiosk, artisan shop and tour booking venue. It is also developing experiential tourism experiences including trail enhancements, camping, canoeing, sport fishing and cooking traditional Mi’kmaq food.

Before they could begin turning around their economy, this First Nation community had to get their financial house in order. For some five years they worked to improve their financial management so they could invest in these new ventures.

“Because we are a small rural community, we need to go after opportunities and build partnerships,” said Chief Googoo. “We now have control of our finances and we have made some good business investments.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we have a great staff and great business partners. One of those partners is the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO). They provided training and support for the community in this economic turn around and for that we are grateful.” The Chief went on to say that none of this would have happened without the hard work of the band staff and his council. “They all pulled together in a real team effort”.

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Chief Googoo was proud to pose for photos with some of the staff working at the new Mini Mall. He is shown with Marlana Simon from Waycobah, one of the security staff and in the other photo is shown with two of the staff at the Tim Hortons, Alyssa Phillips and Kelsey Bernard, both from Waycobah.