About 100 people gathered in Val-d’Or’s Hotel Forestel December 7, with another 100 joining online, to participate in the 18th edition of the Business Exchange Day, hosted by the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance.
“The Business Exchange Days, during which hundreds of businesspeople, leaders, entrepreneurs and decision makers meet and exchange ideas, are exceptional events which encourage the development of sustainable business relationships, foster the harmonious development of economic alliances, promote business relationships based on comprehensions of local expectations cooperation and trust,” Secretariat President Ted Moses said of the event.
“I was very pleased with the Business Exchange Day this year,” said Secretariat Director General Chantal Hamelin. While Covid did not allow for a return to normal, the hybrid in-person and virtual gathering was still an improvement from 2020, which saw an entirely virtual gathering.
“The format this year permitted us to feel safe and comfortable to gather in one room and interact with each other as normal as possible,” Hamelin said. “The reality is, despite the pandemic, there are some businesses and contracts and economic development in the region and in Eeyou Istchee that we felt the need to do this business exchange.
“What I found this year was we had ‘new kids on the block’. Some new Indigenous companies that registered at the Business Exchange Day to just observe, did more – they had meetings that weren’t planned,” Hamelin said.
Around 300 business matchmaking sessions were held to allow companies to network and develop potential partnerships or share contacts and ideas. The focus was on connecting Indigenous-run companies with non-Indigenous companies.
“People want to restart the economy and be a part of it,” Hamelin added. “We were very pleased with the turnout this year and we’re building on that to be even bigger next year.”
One of the inspirational speakers this year was John Kitchen, President and CEO of Miyuukaa. He discussed his history developing partnerships with companies in the forestry and construction sectors to generate sustainable wealth in Waswanipi.
Local Algonquin communities were also invited. “We are widening our circle to be as inclusive as possible and give the aspiration to the people of this region that if they want to grab the business opportunities out there, they can. All First Nations can participate in our business exchange, not just the Crees,” Hamelin explained.
Hamelin encouraged business leaders and entrepreneurs who are interested in participating in the future to call the Secretariat’s office and get registered. “These meetings are extremely positive and serve to make the discussions richer. And that path we chart for the future of our regions is more effective thanks to these meetings. We get connected, we partner, we create alliances, we create opportunities.”
by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter