St. Stephen – When Richard Fulton, the original president of Future St. Stephen (FSS), announced his retirement earlier this year, the search for his replacement began with a furious intensity – ripe with the weight of the organization’s mandate. But with Fulton’s retirement on August 1, Kendall Kadatz has taken the helm of FSS and hopes to bring a data driven approach to FSS’ areas of focus – namely economic and community development, and population growth.
Originally from Alberta, Kadatz and his wife Shelley moved to St. Stephen in January of 2005 to attend St. Stephen’s University, after a time spent teaching English in South Korea.
“We met a few students from SSU while overseas,” said Kadatz, “and they talked about how great it was here, so we thought we should check it out. We came to St. Stephen and planned on staying a year or so, but we never really left.”
After his time as a student SSU, Kadatz went to UNB to get a Bachelor of Education degree, before returning to SSU as an employee. A decade – and a few children – later, Kadatz returned to UNB to get his Masters of Education and began a contract job with the school, which ended recently.
Kadatz says what has kept him and his family in St. Stephen has been the people they have connected with who make it feel like home. And when some of those people began to tell him to apply for the Fulton’s old job – he listened.
After his first conversation with Fulton, Kadatz says he realized the role of Future St. Stephen wasn’t just economic development, but also community development. “So when I saw those two things together, I said, okay, I have an interest in that,” said Kadatz. After looking at the projects FSS has undertaken in the last three years, he came to understand community development and economic development share many of the same qualities.
Fulton’s main role as president of FSS was to be a driver of connecting business needs in the area and attracting new businesses. Kadatz said, “We need to make sure those things are happening, and encouraging the many pieces that compliment and build off of each other to come together, but we also need to look at the question of – what happens after you finish your job at five o’clock, what’s your social life like, what do you need from a community?”
Along those lines, Kadatz believes FSS needs to spend some time getting reconnected with the community which gave it a mandate in the first place, saying in some ways the organization has withdrawn into a more focused group which is “doing it its own thing, though succeeding at many of the ventures that it is tackling.”
Kadatz says when you look at some of the reports and studies that have been done in St. Stephen recently, you start to fill in the gaps of what business, recreation, and housing needs there are, as well as things like the poverty rate and what is being done to address it.
“When you look at all of those pieces together,” he said, ”you can start drawing connections between them, and seeing where there are opportunities to improve the lives of St. Stephen residents.”
Since its inception, FSS has been actively trying to facilitate population growth for two demographics. First, what they call “young working professionals” who work remote jobs, or are looking for jobs in industries which exist or are moving to St. Stephen, and “active retirees” who want to escape from the big city life and leverage the value of their home in large urban areas to have a better quality of life here in southern New Brunswick.
Kadatz recognizes the issue of demographic shift in New Brunswick trending towards older citizens, and concedes in the near future our economy will experience increasing strain on public services because of this – something former Premier Frank McKenna has been quite vocal about. Kadatz agrees focusing on active retirees is a bit like missing the forest for the trees, and if you manage to create a vibrant community, retirees will want to be there anyway. Focusing limited resources on convincing them St. Stephen is the place to retire is a surefire way to ineffectively fulfill the mandate of population growth. If you build something worth coming to, people will come.
As for the Future of Future St. Stephen, Kadatz sees the role of his organization changing as St. Stephen changes. “What I’ve gathered with the organization so far,” he said, “ is it does not think of itself as some long term community pillar. It’s serving a need for a time.
“And I think it’s probably at the stage where it’s just starting to ask itself. What have we done? What should we do next?
“One of the questions that has been thrown around is the future question. Is this meant to stay as Future St. Stephen, or should it transition to Future Charlotte County? Can St. Stephen, in this role, operate in isolation like it is? Or should it operate more collaboratively with the other municipalities in the region in order to be more effective?”
Katadz wonders if the current and future success of the community effort to revitalize St. Stephen, have to be acknowledged as being tied in with what happens in St. George, Blacks Harbour, Campobello, and the rest of Charlotte County.
“Does there need to be a more integrated thinking of the region rather than just the municipality?
“I think that’s a question that’s starting to come up.”