The good ship Enterprise has sunk. It began to take on water after springing a leak two years ago with a 25 per cent cut in funding and it was sent to the bottom last Wednesday with the budget speech delivered by Saskatchewan Finance Minister Ken Krawetz.
Those who were immediately and directly impacted by the demise of Enterprise Saskatchewan, just four years after launching, attempted to be philosophical about the change in their fortunes, but it was a bit difficult for some since they said the cut came as a surprise.
Edie Spagrud, who was managing the Southeast Saskatchewan Enterprise office from Estevan, said it remained unclear as to just how their assets and databases will be dispensed once they close their doors. The provincial funding for these offices, including the six regional offices around the province, ends this Friday with all offices instructed to be closed by May 1.
“We have a huge database, I hope there is some regional initiative around to preserve it so things can at least move forward in some other manner,” said Spagrud who admitted that she will now be out job-hunting.
“I feel badly for the communities involved. They were going forward efficiently on a housing file, an international trade corridor project and community partnership agreements. Even though they were only in operation for three years effectively, there was a lot being done. I really don't know how politicians think, we weren't given any definitive reason as to why we were being shut down. I was beginning to feel that this regional model was beginning to work, one of the best I've seen in the 20 years I've been in this type of business. I find it a bit ironic that the media hasn't said much about this,” she said.
The local enterprise region was funded to a tune of about $250,000 annually, said committee chairman Tim Schroh of Estevan, and that was pretty well the only outside funding they received.
“It's tough to know what the next steps might be because there was no warning. We had a 25 per cent budget cut two years ago,” said Schroh.
“The board is meeting March 27 (last night) so I imagine our regular agenda will look a bit different. It's all very unfortunate, but when you're funded this way, it comes with the territory. It's just too early to even speculate as to what we're going to do in terms of economic development at a regional level. Where will the intellectual properties be assigned? We can't just give the rights to information to one chamber of commerce because we represented the entire region, a lot of square miles,” Schroh added.
Enterprise Minister Jeremy Harrison, in speaking with The Mercury on March 23, said that when it came to the various enterprise regions, “some were working well, some not so much. We felt it was appropriate to halt the funding now in our efforts to balance the budget. We did that, and brought in the only balanced budget in Canada in doing so. There were some decisions to make to enable us to do that and this was one of the difficult ones for sure.”
Harrison said that 25 people were released from their posts in the six designated Enterprise offices and there were no doubt others associated with the 13 other offices that sprang from those six, such as the Southeast sector where at least two more people are being affected by the closure.
“As far as intellectual properties, technical data and details and the costs associated with office closures, we leave that to local governments to decide what they're going to do. The enterprise boards will decide how to share the assets and wind down and transition to something else,” Harrison said, adding that in some instances there might be assistance offered with costs associated with office closure where leases are involved or some other contractual agreements were in place.
“The saving will be about $4 million next year,” Harrison said,
He added that the province is heading into a more national and international circuit of economic development.
For the local committee, it will be a time to regroup and rethink economic development policies at local and regional levels, said Schroh.
“What is disappointing is that this agency was only four years old. It started as an entirely new entity with a fresh mandate. Something like that usually takes time to bring together. At this regional level we had turned our focus into such items as highway twinning, housing and labour shortages and all three sectors were gaining a lot of traction, and then this happens. In the future, we might see combinations of what we had taking form or it might be back to local economic development groups. It's really too early to speculate,” Schroh said in conclusion.