By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: July 14, 2012
Corien Speaker is busy. From downtown business associations to the chamber and to private developers and coworkers, there is a long list of people the new CAO is scheduled to meet over the coming few months.
She took some time off from her busy schedule to speak to the Reporter about her past experiences and her perspective on the future growth for Squamish.
Speaker was born and raised in Creston, but then relocated to Kimberley with her young family in 1988.
She began her career in local government in 1991 with the City of Cranbrook, worked with the City of Prince Rupert, and after six years in the rainy city she returned to the Kootenays as the Chief Administrative Officer for the District of Elkford.
She joined District of Squamish as CAO in July.
Q. You have worked with local government for two decades now. How has been your experience ?
A. Well, I feel that local government is a customer service organisation that provides services to people who are the tax payers of our community. I think it’s a great way to connect with your community.
When I worked in Prince Rupert, it was undergoing a significant financial difficulties, the pulp mill there was struggling, and it owed the muni a significant amount of back taxes. I worked very closely with the council and the community for three years to make sure we didn’t go bankrupt.
Q. What was your take away from that experience?
A. There is a few things I would say. I think industrial taxes are significant in small industry town, and when that tax base is lost, it significantly alters the service the community can provide.
It’s really important to talk to the industry, to really connect with the industry, understand the health of the industry and how that affects the community.
It gave me a good perspective on industrial relations, on economic development, on how to bring groups and organisations together to actually plan out economic activities for the long-term viability of the community.
Q. We have had a similar issue with loss of tax revenue from industry.
A. Yes and I have actually called up Squamish to discuss it when Prince Rupert was going through those hurdles.
Elkford had a strong industry base. It’s a single industry town, and industry actually built the community, and employed 2,500 people.
So, I have worked with the industry and understand the negatives and positives, and that allows me to have those conversations.
Q. What was your experience in Elkford when it comes to industry?
A. I use the words partnership and relationship when dealing with industry. We worked very collaboratively, and we did collaborative recruitment, collaborative marketing. It’s a very integrated process.
It also gives you the experience to find out what you need to do to make it viable, whatever the industry or the business might be.
Q. What prompted you to take up the job in Squamish?
A. Well, it’s very much like the similar sized communities that I have worked with before. I liked the organisational structure, and I was able to see the growth and development that has occurred here in the last five to ten years.
I was looking at the improvement in customer focus that was happening in the core service review, and I liked the direction where we are going.
Q. Economic development has been a major issue in Squamish.
A. I can’t say I have formulated a view on economic development on Squamish yet. But I certainly see the opportunities. Being a waterfront community provides opportunity, and being a young community brings an entrepreneurial spirit.
I can also see that the economic development as we have known in this past 100 years is changing because of technology and knowledge industry.
That perspective is changing globally, I don’t know what that opportunity is yet for Squamish, but I can facilitate those conversations.
Q. Squamish has not always enjoyed a very good reputation among developers.
A. Yes, I’m aware of that and we have been streamlining business activities and documents like the OCP that help guide what the community looks like. It’s about making sure we can process things as efficiently as possible, and we are not stopping growth. As I mentioned earlier, it’s about customer service, and how can we help where we can.
Q. Is there an overarching vision you have for our town?
A. I don’t have a vision for Squamish yet, but my perspective is that it’s important that we provide the best customer service, streamline processes, and maintain our brand consistently as a young, active community.
And we don’t always have to be the hard bureaucratic organisation. It can all be fun too.