Familiar Face Joins Western REN Team

Matt Trask

Matthew (Matt) Trask is a familiar face on the regional business scene. Whether you know him as a successful businessperson, an engaged volunteer, or through his work with the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce; Matt is a well-connected addition to the Western REN team.

After graduating with his Bachelor of Business Administration, Matt joined the family insurance brokerage in 1993 and made partner in 2000. In 2005, he and his father sold the firm, which had grown to one of Eastern Canada’s largest brokers. A businessperson and an involved member of the community, Matt has volunteered with professional and service organizations, as well as coaching youth athletics. Matt is currently completing a Master of Education degree.

“Matt has a high calibre of business acumen and community connections.” says Western REN CEO, Angélique LeBlanc, “These strengths will support his new position as the Economic Development Officer responsible for leading the Western REN’s BusinessNow program.”

The BusinessNow program includes all the Western REN client-facing services, including the Connector Program, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, and the Business Retention & Expansion Program. The latter is where Matt will focus his time.

The BR&E program is often the Western REN’s first point of contact with regional company owners and employers. Matt’s experience in the business community gives him a unique set of tools to apply. “As Executive Director of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce, I was tasked to increase membership. In my three years there, I increased the membership by 40%. I look forward to using those skills to reach out to firms in the rest of the region.”

Contact Matt for more information: email at mtrask@westernren.ca or call 902-749-8270, or stop by the Western REN office at 368 Main Street, Suite 220 in Yarmouth.

The Western REN informs, connects, and accelerates regional economic development in the Municipalities of Argyle, Barrington, Clare, Digby, and Yarmouth, and in the Towns of Digby and Yarmouth.

Small Changes Lead to Big Benefits

Continuous Improvement (CI) is an ongoing effort that constantly seeks to increase a firm’s effectiveness and efficiency by improving products, services, and/or processes, also known as Lean Manufacturing. It is a conscious evolution of an organization. The Western Regional Enterprise Network (Western REN) has completed a pilot project of CI with seven of the region’s firms, leading to significant results including increased productivity and sales, improved safety, reduced waste, and expanded product lines.

Western REN CEO, Angélique LeBlanc explains that, through their BusinessNow program, workforce quality and availability was identified as a chronic challenge for the region’s employers. “This is a very complex problem, so we approach it from several angles. We support employers in accessing all available talent – both locally and through immigration. We help uncover the region’s hidden job market through our Connector program. Finally, we explore the question about whether employers can be more productive with their existing workforce. This last question led us to the Continuous Improvement pilot program.”

With funding from ACOA, Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the private sector participants, the NS Seafood Alliance, and in partnership with NSBI, the Western REN contracted Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) for their extensive CI experience in Atlantic Canada. This one-year pilot led to tangible – and growing – benefits to the participating regional businesses, the majority of which are seafood processors.

Leo Muise, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance says, “Several of our members participated in this pilot and found it of good value. Member participants found the experience to be informative, leading to everyday improvements in their business procedures, helping them overcome some operational challenges. In all, it was a positive experience.”

The pilot included training, assessments, action plans, and peer learning among the cluster of manufacturers participating. Many suggestions for improvements come directly from staff, empowering and motivating individuals to work as a team. A few individual firm results from the 12-month Western REN’s CI pilot include:

  • Reduced transportation waste by 23%, and planning to use the savings towards growth.
  • Reduced cleaning costs by 48 man-hours per day, redirected labour time into two new premium product lines.
  • Increased profits by 26% by using efficiencies to increase capacity and add value to product lines.
  • Increased productivity by 9%, or $600,000 in sales during the pilot.

Tour at Tri-Star

“Participation in this pilot catalyzed positive change in the culture of our company,” says Darryl Cleveland, CFO of Tri-Star Industries Ltd. “By re-examining the way we have done things in the past, we have redefined our vision and strategic objectives for the future.”

The success of the Western REN’s Continuous Improvement pilot was one of the key considerations for ACOA and LAE in supporting the roll-out of CME’s Manufacturing Productivity program to all Nova Scotia. The program consists of a 3-phased approach, allowing 32 eligible NS manufacturers to achieve business results through implementing continuous improvement. With the program being 50% filled, interested companies should contact the Western REN for further information and next steps.

“We know that continuous improvement to increase efficiency and performance is critical for Nova Scotia companies to remain competitive in the global marketplace,” says Colin Fraser, Member of Parliament for West Nova. “The Government of Canada is proud to help the Western Regional Enterprise Network provide hands-on process improvement coaching and mentoring to local small-and medium-sized enterprises. Ideas for productivity improvement come from employees actually doing the work, resulting in the elimination of unnecessary activities and improving operational outcomes. The result is greater profitability, and better employee engagement and job satisfaction. As these companies become more productive and innovative, they grow, and in turn help to grow the middle class.”

“The province is pleased to help fund this pilot which helped Western businesses become more efficient and productive, and reduce their overall costs,” said Labour and Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis. “It also helped demonstrate that continuous improvement practices can contribute to simpler processes, faster turnaround and greater employee and client satisfaction for any organization, regardless of location.”

The Western REN informs, connects, and accelerates regional economic development in the Municipalities of Argyle, Barrington, Clare, Digby, and Yarmouth, and in the Towns of Digby and Yarmouth.

Continuous Improvement Pilot Participants in Western NS:

  • Riverside Lobster
  • AF Theriault and Son
  • Tri-Star Industries
  • Gidney Fisheries
  • Eel Lake Oysters
  • Evan’s Fresh Seafood
  • IMO Fisheries

Of the seven alumni, four of them will continue with the expanded program, and the others may participate in an abbreviated form. Other Western regional firms are also expressing interest.

Fresh Faces at the Western REN

Two new directors, and a new executive. That’s a part of what was announced, Tuesday, at the Western Regional Enterprise Network (Western REN) 4th Annual General Meeting.

Much of the Western REN’s success is due to the strengths on its Board of Directors. Appointed from the private sector only, this Board provides strategic direction to the organization, while leaving operational decisions to the CEO.

Directors are appointed, not elected, by the Liaison and Oversight Committee (LOC) which is comprised of the organization’s funding partners. This includes an elected representative from each of the seven municipal members, and two representatives from the Province of Nova Scotia.

Digby Warden and LOC Vice-Chair Jimmy MacAlpine presented the LOC report and appointment decisions at the AGM. “Building an effective Board is a solid example of strengthening relationships across the region. To get the most effective Board, the LOC considers required skill sets, geographic representation, gender, age, and cultural background. We work together to recruit regionally.”

Since it’s incorporation, the Western REN has had stable and growing Board of Directors. At the inclusion of Barrington Municipality, the Board grew from 9 to 12 Directors. Now three of the inaugural Directors have served their final permissible term. At time of print, two of those vacancies have been filled and the LOC is targeting its recruitment in Clare for the final seat.

Nick d'Eon 2018

Nick d’Eon

Mary Thompson 2018

Mary Thompson

Outgoing Board Chair, Warner Comeau, will be staying on as a director and welcomed the new Directors; Mary Thompson, Principal NSCC Burridge, Shelburne, and Digby campuses, and Nick d’Eon CFO for O’Neil Fisheries and Scotia Harvest.

“The inaugural Board has worked hard and very well to establish the Western REN as a leader among RENs in Nova Scotia and I speak for the rest of the Board when I say thank you to those who are leaving.” says Comeau, “And to those coming on Board. We are pleased with the LOC appointments. Each of these people has needed strengths and perspectives that will be an asset to our team.”

Ron Smith 2018

Incoming Board Chair Ron Smith

Incoming Board Chair, Ron Smith, echoes Comeau’s sentiments. “As this is the final year of our initial strategy, it is also good timing to have some new perspectives on the Board. We look forward to putting Mary’s and Nick’s skills to work – along with the rest of the Board and our many stakeholders and partners – as we develop our next three-year strategy for regional economic development.” Smith will be working with the new Vice-Chair, Clark Sigfridson to lead the organization to continued regional successes.

CEO LeBlanc reported on the current Business Plan and pointed out that “the momentum gained in our foundational work will be at the heart of our next strategy. We are looking forward to working with this Board and our partners in developing and implementing the next stage of our work.”

The Western REN informs, connects, and accelerates regional economic development in the Municipalities of Argyle, Barrington, Clare, Digby, and Yarmouth, and in the Towns of Digby and Yarmouth.

Directors leaving the Board after the 2018 AGM:

  • Michel Comeau
  • Angela Lombard-Thurber
  • David Saxton

Symposium brings together youth and employers


Western Nova Scotia, May 7, 2018

Spoiler alert: There are great opportunities in Western Nova Scotia. There are also plenty of young people who want to stay in the region.

Dispelling many of the narratives that youth must leave to find opportunities and that employers cannot rely on young workers; the Business Education Symposium was hosted May 2nd by the Western Regional Enterprise Network (Western REN), in partnership with Nova Scotia’s Business Education Council and the Department of Education & Early Childhood Development.

“Western Regional employers continue to face chronic labour challenges,” explains Western REN CEO Angélique LeBlanc, “Working with the Business Education Council, this event provided an intentional networking opportunity and fostered an open dialogue between employers and high-school students throughout the region. This is a part of a long-term solution to the labour challenges.”

Chair of the Business Education Council, Calvin Gosse, says, “It is extremely important for the future economic growth of our province that the business community actively engage with students to create a two-way understanding of what each requires.” Mr. Gosse, Atlantic Public-Sector Client Executive at IBM continues, “That is what makes opportunities such as these symposiums so important.”

“What an amazing day for students, teachers and employers in the Western Region.” Lynn Hogan Gillespie, Director Career Exploration and Experiential Learning from Nova Scotia’s Department of Education. “Conversations were rich and impactful giving everyone the chance to learn what employees are looking for but also what our students have to offer. Kudos to the Business Education Council and the Western REN for their leadership and partnering on this initiative.”

The event was aimed at engaging business and youth in a meaningful dialogue to best prepare for success in the workplace, and to highlight the opportunities for youth seeking careers in Western Nova Scotia. Fifteen regional employers shared their experiences and insights with 42 students from 9 of the region’s high schools.

Claudia Winterhalter, Recruitment Advisor for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, participated on the employer panel. “I was very impressed with the caliber of students and it was great for employers to meet them in this environment. It will be exciting to see where their career paths take them. I feel our future is in good hands!”

The Symposium is the first business event hosted by the Western REN that provided a platform specifically designed to engage youth.

Success by Design

Success by Design

A democratic system is synonymous with change.  Along with our electoral cycles come changes to our economic development landscape.  How do we remain focused and effective when surrounded by so many moving parts?

It may seem counter-intuitive but being nimble and operating in a constantly changing environment does in fact require a strategy.  It most definitely requires certain skillsets.

A solid economic development strategy must begin with a scan of the current environment, which, as noted earlier, changes rapidly.  Political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal factors all play a role in shaping the environment.  These factors change on a daily, even hourly, basis, and must constantly be revisited.  Consider how the organisation is impacted vis à vis these factors, and revisit strategy often enough using tools such as SWOT analysis to determine if tweaks, or course corrections, are required.

A strategy is a road-map forward but must not be so rigid as to limit opportunities.  The most successful strategies allow for a balance.  We can choose to drive, to fly, to go by rail or by boat; even a combination of one or more of the above.  You can choose the fastest route, the cheapest route, or the most scenic.  Although the ultimate destination remains the same, travel plans may change.

Most Canadians attempting to travel anywhere in the winter are well-aware of this challenge!  Environment is often uncontrollable.  Flights are delayed; weather happens.  What is controllable is your reaction to that environment.  Rare is a journey that goes exactly as planned and your ability to stay focused on your ultimate destination is key!

Leading the implementation of a strategy requires that ability to focus on the goal. Organisational core values, vision, and mandate must be defined and revisited periodically.  These values are at the heart of any strategy and must permeate the entire culture of the organisation.  With this foundation, when the organisation is being pulled off course, and it most certainly will be, a solid strategy with a clear vision will provide the course correction.

Allocating resources, and leveraging those resources is key – from dollars to HR, from physical assets to technology, how will they be applied most effectively?  The greatest of strategies are meaningless without solid operational decisions. As with the strategy, implementation must be nimble and responsive to the constantly changing environment.

Communicating the strategy in a clear, succinct way is essential.  Partners and stakeholders must understand the strategy and how actions line up with both shared and individual goals. Clear lines of communications are critical to the success of all partnerships, we must all be pulling in the same direction. Internal and external communication are equally important and must be considered on an ongoing basis.

Success must be defined and measured.  When deciding what to measure, ask yourself and your partners ‘what is in our control?’.  What will be measured must be within the control of the organisation and its’ partners, otherwise it is not a true measurement of impact.  This is particularly true in the field of economic development, where success depends on activated and coordinated partnerships as well as criteria outside of any one organisations’ control.

A rational, clear-headed approach, grounded in core values, enhanced by communication, and informed through frequent environmental scanning will most certainly increase strategic impact in your region.  Keep your eye on the destination!



Angélique LeBlanc is CEO of the Western Regional Enterprise Network and teaches Strategic Management at Université Sainte-Anne.




Western Wins

Introducing Western Wins

A showcase of successes, innovations, and lessons learned from regional businesses. 

Yarmouth business, RennDuPrat Design & Fabrication, was created by Freshco owner and Yarmouth native Mandy Rennehan, and Dustin DuPrat, a designer and carpenter originally from Vermont.

Mandy and Dustin met on a job after Dustin moved to Yarmouth, the town his wife, Kelly, calls home. Dustin and Kelly owned and operated a successful design and construction business in Vermont before they made the move. They decided to work together to build RennDuPrat, a design and fabrication firm.

RennDuPrat is a design firm that not only does the interior and exterior designs, but also creates custom, one-off furniture/accessories/kitchens. They serve both residential and commercial clients. Their first order of business was to create their headquarters. They took 1.5 years to renovate a building on Main Street in Yarmouth and turned it into a beautiful place to do business, a custom woodworking shop, and an executive apartment.

Before renovations

After renovations

Establishing a new business can be a challenge, but as the quality of their work became known, the calls started coming in for new projects. Then they had to grow their team.

The business includes Mandy and Dustin, of course, Kelly, who is the Operations Manager, as well as 1 Executive Assistant, 4 Cabinet Makers, and 4 on the Construction Crew.

Dustin admits that early on it was challenging to find skilled carpenters willing to join his construction crew. Many local skilled tradespeople have built long-standing relationships with well-established businesses in the area and they felt joining such a new and seemingly unconventional business would be too risky.

However, once they got rolling there was no issue, and they started getting calls asking if they were hiring. The job is fun and creative, and the team is excited about the job and what they are creating. Every job is different, there is a lot of opportunity for problem solving, and for everyone to leave their own fingerprint. Their employees take pride in what they do, and that makes it easy to come to work.

RennDuPrat Team 2017

RennDuPrat is particular about the types of people they hire. Dustin and Kelly learned in their previous business, that a certain level of professionalism in a trade will set you apart from the rest. As an employer, RennDuPrat is infused with a high level of professionalism, including customer service qualities such as discretion.  To add to the professional atmosphere, all employees are dressed in branded RennDuPrat gear.

Like any business, there are challenges. “Yarmouth is a tough place to do business, geographically”, said Dustin. It’s not on the main drag, and getting materials here in a timely fashion is difficult. Sometimes it can take a week or more, where getting materials in Toronto or Montreal takes a day. RennDuPrat had to cut deals with their suppliers, to ensure that they could get materials on time.

Another challenge is that the Maritimes tend to be about 10 years behind on trends, including design and décor. Having lived and worked in the design industry in Vermont gives Kelly and Dustin an advantage here. Mandy’s presence in Toronto helps them keep their finger on the pulse, and bring the latest to Yarmouth.

Although there was a bit of skepticism when they first started out, RennDuPrat is proud to have its home base in Western Nova Scotia. They appreciate the supportive community, and have observed that it’s a great market for their product. The people in the Western region want to support local business, and are happy to see innovative businesses thrive.

RennDuPrat is currently running at max capacity in their current building, and are looking to expand to Toronto.

Summit Lessons Learned

Now that we’ve had some time to reflect on our recent summit we would like to share some of the lessons learned at this event.

The theme of the summit was Landing Talent. We went back to the fundamentals of how to find the right fit for the company and the position. We explored the importance of clear communication between employers and the workforce they hope to engage.


It may seem overly simple, but misunderstandings and conflicts in the workplace often arise from unclear or unrealistic expectations. These conflicts can become barriers to both recruitment and to retention in a workforce. When both employers and employees are clear with one another about their expectations, challenges can be identified and solutions found. This is a critical component of finding the right fit for the job.

Image: Closing the gap

Right Fit

The small population of the Western Region presents a challenge for recruitment of all skill levels. Finding the right people to fill jobs is an immediate challenge in the region, and will persist for the medium and long term if no action is taken.

Fortunately, there are available programs to help employers attract and access a greater array of potential employees. It always starts with clearly identifying your firm’s needs and services like those from Nova Scotia Works Employer Engagement Specialists can help with that process.


Another challenge we face as a region is youth outmigration. Many young people leave the region once they graduate high school. Workforce and entrepreneur programs exist in school settings and apprenticeship program at post-secondary settings. For these programs to have the desired impact of increased youth retention, willing employers are needed to support real life experiences.

We must demonstrate existing opportunities in the region in order to recruit back some of the youth who have moved away. The more young people that live and work in an area and are happy, the easier it is to recruit more, but only if they recognize the many opportunities available.


Two of the most important factors in successfully recruiting the right fit are 1) the job description and 2) the job posting.

A job description is to be used as a checklist of required skills and activities. This must be an accurate and clearly cover the full range of job duties required by the employee.

However, a job posting is your marketing tool to advertise the job to potential employees. It’s a sales pitch of the job and the whole package (the area, the workplace, the lifestyle, and all other benefits of a job.)


Workplace education is one of the ways that employers can access fundamental skills development for their existing workforce. Current employees can improve their skills in a specific area and the employer gains a more skilled employee. Training, especially in the context of advancing in the business, is a key element of successfully retaining employees. Again, it comes down to expectations – if the employer needs people to advance and if the employee wants to advance.

Other retention strategies discussed included accommodations for workforces with barriers to employment (for example: transportation and flexible schedules), enriching the workplace with social or community-based activities, and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement that engages employees.

We can help.

The Western REN can assist business-people to figure out what programs or services are most applicable to their needs. Contact us for more information.

Click the image below for a slide-show from the Landing Talent Summit.

Link to Summit Slide Show

Immigration for Employers

  • Are you facing a decreasing workforce?
  • How many of your employees will still be working in 5-10 years?
  • Do you find it challenging to find qualified employees?

You are not alone. Atlantic Canada, along with the Western region, is facing a retiring workforce and an impending skills shortage. Imagine if half the workers in our community were no longer working. How can we work together to lessen the blow of a declining population?

Immediately following our Summit on October 17th, our newest team member, Gino Thibeault provided a brief overview of how the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) can help regional employers and what it takes to get involved.

Gino Thibeault Western REN Immigration

This new immigration stream for Atlantic Canada is designed to fill immediate labour force needs.

The AIP is an accelerated way to bring in workers, along with their families, from other countries. This stream is different than existing immigration streams. It’s quicker than other ways, since Atlantic Canada is in a unique situation. It is also employer-driven, as opposed to current streams which are immigrant driven.

To take advantage of this program, employers must get designated. To become designated, the employer must apply to the province and meet the following criteria:

  • Have a business operating in good standing;
  • Provide information on labour needs;
  • Commit to working with a service provider organization on settlement and retention.

Once they are designated they can start to advertise and recruit internationally. Once the employer finds the right fit for their business, the province endorses the employer. To become endorsed, an employer must:

  • Demonstrate efforts to hire locally have not been successful;
  • Recruit a foreign worker;
  • Provide a valid, full-time, non-seasonal job offer co-signed with the foreign worker;
  • Provide an individualized settlement plan co-signed with the foreign worker.

Immigration Supports in Western NS: NSOI’s Mary-Jo MacKay, Y-Reach’s Dolores Atwood, Western REN’s Gino Thibeault

After the employer finds a candidate that is the right fit and offers them a job, the employer connects them with a participating settlement service provider. These organizations work with the recruit, conduct a needs assessment, and create a settlement plan for the employee and their family. This plan includes recommendations for schools, doctor, and other suggestions to ensure that the new employee has a good life here. This makes for a smoother transition and a higher retention rate.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot provides an avenue for regional employers to bring in new workers to bolster their declining workforce and address our impending skills shortage. Not only will this program help us bring in new workers fill job shortages, but also to add individuals and families to our region and help it grow.

Contact Gino for more information: gthibeault@westernren.ca or by phone at 902-307-2771.

Happy Small Business Week

The Western REN started the week off with a bang! Our 4th Annual Summit, Landing Talent, took place on Tuesday at the Clare Veteran’s Center in Saulnierville.

Seventy-four individuals attended from both the private and public sector, neatly divided at 50% from the private sector, including employers and employees, and the other 50% were from the public sector (including Western REN staff).

Attendees also came from a wide range of industries. The private sector participants were most commonly entrepreneurs (self-employed) and then fishery related industries. Some of the region’s largest employers sent HR staff.

Photo credit: Michael Carty

The Summit brought together employers, potential employees, and service programs for both. Our panel discussions explored expectations, challenges, and possible solutions from both the employer and employee perspective. These conversations revealed much.

Employee perspectives:

There is a need for more employers willing to invest in the region’s workforce, including: workplace education to keep pace with a rapidly changing work environment, implementing accommodations as required to access available workforce, and participating in co-op placements from high school program. The latter are intended to demonstrate to young people the types of vocations and opportunities that await them when they graduate or return from travels/studies.

Employer perspectives:

Finding and keeping the needed talent is a struggle for employers dealing with a large entry-level workforce, all the way down to highly specialized professions. Many employers are not aware of the variety of services available to them through public sector programs. Also, recruitment efforts need to be enhanced in order to access the right fit for the job and the organization. Finally, retaining an engaged workforce can be challenging for larger, entry-level employers; clearly identifying potential career paths and providing an enriched workplace are two tools being applied by some employers.

Shared learning is a core offering at our Summits and this year we focussed on some very basic requirements of managing human resources. Participants did a brief exercise around communication styles that impact not only how we get our messages across to one another, but also how we best receive information. This self-awareness is critical to successful HR management.

Employee challenges are employer challenges. One of our activities demonstrated the loss of productivity and increased frustration faced by employees provided unclear job descriptions. Finally, we explored the differences between writing a clear job description (which provides instruction) and developing an appealing job posting (which sells the position). Both are crucial for recruitment and retention – though they are not interchangeable.

Landing (and keeping) talent is an extremely complex issue and cannot be resolved in a half-day event. Our goal was to introduce small, but practical, tools for employers to apply right away. Our work doesn’t end here – we support regional businesses, year-round, through Western REN regular programming.

Our BusinessNow program, lead by Victoria Brooks, is for both developing relationships with individual business owners and providing evidence for advising solutions. Our Western Connector program (announced at our 3rd Summit) is headed by Brenda LaGrandeur. This program supports job seekers who lack networks to connect with employers. Our newest addition, Gino Thibeault heads the Immigration program providing information concerning reaching out beyond the province for talent needed. About 15 people stayed for an optional Immigration for Employers Clinic following our Summit.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone for another successful Summit and we look forward to continuing our work with the good people of Western Nova Scotia.