Tewatohnhi’saktha’s new CEO Kyle Delisle sees the economic development commission out of the revenue generation game, and focused on building businesses and finding jobs in Kahnawake. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
Tewatohnhi’saktha will not look like it has since its inception in the near future, as its new board and CEO seek to change the way things operate at the local organization.
“The English name for it is the economic development commission, but yet we really don’t do economic development,” said CEO Kyle Delisle.
The Kahnawake Economic Development Commission (KEDC) has been in the business of generating revenue fairly recently, through projects such as the St. Cyprien wind farm, digital billboards or other areas.
Section 4.4 of the Tewatohnhi’saktha Economic Development Commission Law reads that it “has the primary responsibility for researching, developing, establishing and operating community-scale economic development projects,” which, for Delisle, needs to change if the commission is to do its job and help foster economic development.
“Really when you look at what economic development is, what economic development organizations do, they’re kind of diametrically opposed to revenue generation,” he said.
Delisle explained that in today’s economy, generating money means lowering employment payrolls. The less people you have to write cheques for, the more money you’ll make.
Delisle wants the economic development commission out of the revenue generation game, and more focused on building Kahnawake’s economy overall.
“We were always having that argument on what we were supposed to be doing,” he said. “Are we’re supposed to be generating revenue or facilitating job creation?”
The Eastern Door asked Delisle if he thought the community perhaps misunderstood what the KEDC’s purpose was.
“I’ll venture far enough to say that I don’t think Tewatohnhi’saktha knew itself what it was there for,” he said.
Discussions over the past year have involved looking at the organization and coming up with a new vision.
“Even before the new board came on in September, we approved our strategic plan which we developed over the previous year,” said Delisle.
“We need to change the mandate of Tewatohnhi’saktha. Take out that revenue generation part, give it to a third entity, and let Tewatohnhi’saktha focus on actually being the economic development commission. We have a specific role to play and let’s focus on economic development.”
Kahnawake’s economic landscape includes businesses of all shapes and sizes from a one-person business to establishments that employ hundreds.
Traditionally, Tewatohnhi’saktha’s Small Business Services and entrepreneurship training was aimed exclusively at small micro businesses with a staff of less than five.
“Everything was geared to that,” said Delisle. “We need to expand what we do in that area. Right now we only do the business support to start up. Well, what about the business retention and expansion; those businesses that are already here in Kahnawake, whether locally or non-locally owned, to make sure they stay here.”
Tewatohnhi’saktha, for Delisle, needs to help businesses expand and improve businesses of all sizes, as well as supporting those starting out for a simple reason.
“It’s all about jobs so let’s focus on the ones that create them and let’s help them do that,” said Delisle.
“You want to help startups, you want to help existing businesses expand so that they create more jobs, or so that they stay in business and maintain those jobs that they have. And we try to attract outside jobs to locate here, so they bring those jobs with them.”
Larger businesses like Playground Poker, JFK Quarry or MIT may have political, regulatory or other issues that smaller startups do not have as many issues with.
“These other issues, that we can help them with,” said Delisle. “It’s not necessarily financial that they need us, but they need us for other things.”
Delisle was at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake last week explaining his vision and the need to clarify the relationship between council and the EDC.
“Council doesn’t understand business, and businesses don’t understand government, and Tewatohnhi’saktha’s role is to be that middle person,” he said.
“We understand both the language of business and the language of government. We’re going to be that liaison to understand what the business requirements are, understand what the government is asking of them, and to be that go-between the two so the businesses can succeed.”
The goal is to facilitate economic development through partners like the MCK, education centre, ministry of transport, or childcare facility so the business can develop without disrupting another organizations.
If a business opens, for example, with 100 local jobs available, more spots may be needed for daycare.
“We have to make sure all our partners are there because they’re the ones ultimately delivering the services,” said Delisle. “We’re just identifying for everyone what’s required. What does this business need?”
Delisle wants his staff more visible in the community, and not glued to a 9-5 schedule.
“Whether these businesses are our clients or not, it doesn’t matter. We need to be talking to them,” he said. “Just to get an idea of how business is going. Do you need us? Are you aware of what we can provide if you need help?”
Education and Training:
“Why is it that if you’re in kindergarten, elementary school, high school, CEGEP, and university, you go to the education centre, but in that little gap there that if you dropped out of high school and want your diploma or you want to go to vocational, you come to us? That doesn’t make sense,” said Delisle.
“That’s education. Let education handle education. That’s their area of expertise, not ours.”
Delisle came back to jobs. The EDC should, Delisle said, be focused on helping community members find jobs, retain them, and advance where possible.
Employment and training, as its currently run, currently focuses primarily on vocational training and academic upgrading.
Delisle would like the EDC to work with businesses, identify what type of workers are needed, and help them find the individuals for those jobs.
For individual workers, Tewatohnhi’saktha would guide clients to find the skills and training needed to fit into the workforce.
In addition, Delisle wants the commission to work with businesses off territory, find out what staff they require, and help clients at employment and training figure out ways to land those jobs.
“There are good paying jobs,” he said. “Even after paying your taxes, you’re going to make a pretty good salary working out there… Everyone looking for a job should be able to come to us.”
Like with business services, Delisle wants his staff to meet EDC clients where they’re at and not the other way around.
“If we really truly want to be client-focused, then let’s find out what the clients want and meet them, not when it’s convenient for us, when it’s convenient for the clients and where it’s convenient for the clients,” said Delisle.
The board may need a shakeup as well, where seats are made for infrastructure, education, legal and other experts in fields that directly contribute to Kahnawake’s economy.
“They’re the ones that really make economic development happen, so they need to be at the board level,” said Delisle.
The change in focus will take time to implement, but Delisle is determined to ensure the partners involved
“Overall when I’m talking about programs and services, I think generally that’s what I’m looking for: really start focusing Tewatohnhi’saktha on actually being the Kahnawake Economic Development Commission,” said Delisle.
“We’re there for economic development… We still need additional revenues for this community, but it needs to be separate. Let us focus on what we need to do.”