“Rural workers committed, hardworking says Kyle”
By Tammy Scott-Wallace
Georgetown, P.E.I.– One of the Maritimes’ most successful entrepreneurs said he would choose a rural community over urban every time to set up shop.
John Bragg of Collingwood, N.S., operates a world-class, $70-million frozen fruit factory in Oxford – 10 kilometers away from his rural homestead of about 300 people. With his grandchildren nearby, there are seven generations of Braggs who have kept their roots solidly planted in the soil of rural Nova Scotia.
Bragg, founder of Oxford Foods, was among the speakers to take the stage at the Georgetown Conference on eastern Prince Edward Island on Friday. The gathering, called Rural Redefined, collected about 300 speakers and community doers from across Atlantic Canada with the common vision to recharge their rural communities for long-term prosperity.
Bragg said when he was faced with the decision to stay in his rural community to build his company or look to a larger centre, most likely Maine, with provincial support he was able to stay home.
He said banks are not geared to support entrepreneurs when they need it the most. And while he says he didn’t receive government grants, the province was critical in securing his financing to create what has become an employer for 540 people full-time.
“There’s work for anyone who wants to work,” he said, referring to the Oxford area and its population of 1,500 people.
From his factory that specializes in the production and export of frozen blueberries, the community succeeded as a whole with work opportunities for a variety of skills, and in the last decade the business supported the need for a new school to be built in the prosperous community, a multi-million dollar water system Bragg shared in funding, and his company backed bringing natural gas to his community.
Bragg owns also communications company Eastlink that reaches into rural communities across the nation, as well is behind other significant business ventures.
For the successful businessman, he looks to rural communities first when doing business. He insists communities and the people in them need to support one another and have faith that even the most challenging opportunities are worth pursuing.
“We are a lot better at putting up road blocks than we are at breaking them down,” he said.
Barry Kyle, owner of Industrial Rubber Company in Big River near Bathurst, not only shared a panel with Bragg during the three-day conference that ends Saturday, but he shares the same belief. Nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit and pursuing possibilities in rural communities not only supports the local work force and keeps young people from moving to the western provinces, which is a common trend in Atlantic Canada, but it can rely on a committed, hardworking workforce of local people who want to stay settled in their communities.
He said when Brunswick Mine closed in northern New Brunswick this year, the community was hard hit. He said, however, when his company teams up with a German company next year to build armoured vehicles over a five-year-period, the hiring of 35 more people at his plant will have an important impact on a community hurt by the mine closure.
“It’s all to do with connections,” Kyle said, explaining communities need to network and form relationship aboard, as he did with Germany, to bring opportunities to Atlantic Canada.
“Everyone loves where they are so you better go and find a way,” Kyle said. “You have to take a risk – you have to go out and try it.
“And everyone needs a little luck.”
He said if 10 new families, some of them from Germany, come to his region to stay for five years, that is a significant injection into the community. Statistics say for every dollar spent in a community, the spinoff in the local economy means that one dollar multiplies seven times.
Kyle insists opportunities, like both he and Bragg have experienced in their rural communities, can happen anywhere the vision exists.
“You can do anything from wherever you are,” he said.