Business owners, public encouraged to be more welcoming to newcomers - Mar. 27, 2014
Business owners in St. Stephen were told they and the general public needed to be more welcoming to immigrants who move to the town to operate businesses.
Dale Weeks, the immediate past president of the St. Stephen and Area Chamber of Commerce, said he had recently been told by two local Korean business owners they did not feel welcome in the community.
“I’ve just been made aware they are feeling discriminated against and hard done by, by the people in this community.
“Is that true? Do you think that’s true? Or do we have a problem of being inclusive and welcoming?”
Weeks made his remarks last week at a Chamber breakfast meeting where Development St. Stephen unveiled Phase One of its marketing strategy plan which lists population growth as one of its goals. Weeks commented on a point in the plan, developed for DSS by Jeremy Barham of Volution Marketing, which called for more collaboration between the town and Charlotte County Multicultural Association.
Barham told the meeting New Brunswick was one of the top immigration choices for Koreans and there was funding in place to encourage immigrants to choose the province as their future home and place of business. He urged the town to work with immigration consultants who heavily influenced the new Canadians in their choice of re-location.
“If we’re going to ask for immigrants to come, we’ve got to change some of our attitudes in this community, to improve the ‘welcomeness’ they’re going to feel. They don’t feel supported,” stated Weeks.
He said when he learned of the concerns raised by the Korean business owners, “It was kind of stunning, I had to sit down and hang my head in shame.”
In response to a question, Weeks said the immigrants have been asked to become members of the chamber but did not accept.
“But that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs to them,” he stated.
“They have their own struggles. They’re working literally 24 hours a day in their own business getting started and they don’t really have a lot of time to spend trying to sell themselves to the community as well as trying to break through this problem.”
Weeks said if DSS is raising things the community has to address, then inclusiveness is of utmost importance.
“We’re going to have to do more as a community, as business owners, as citizens of the community to show these people that we care about them.
“If we don’t do that, they’re going to find other places to go.”
Weeks said the suggestion of a partnership with the multiculturalism association ‘is an important start” and urged the chamber to become pro-active on that front.
“If we don’t we’re going to fail.”
Abby Pond, executive director of the St. Croix International Waterway Commission, attended the breakfast meeting.
She said she was initially welcomed to the community, but has also been “repelled” by people who saw her as coming here and taking a job from a local.
“We as a group need to stop and combat that thinking,” said Pond. “We chose to come here, we should be welcome here. We’re not taking jobs away from other people because if they had wanted them, the job would have been theirs.”
Pond said the best person for the job should be hired.
“It doesn’t matter where they come from, they’re helping the community grow.”
She said it was difficult for her to become involved in the community. “I would think that would be even more difficult if you were facing cultural and language barriers.”
Heather Estey, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Charlotte County, said while chamber members cannot give “the entire town cultural sensitivity training”, business owners can give it to their own employees so that when the Korean immigrants come into their places of businesses “we can make them feel welcome in those moments.”
“I’m not saying there’s no hope,” said Weeks. “I’m just saying we do have a challenge in front of us and need to work on it.”