OP-ED: WE ARE THE SOO!
WE ARE THE SOO!
A resilient community is very much like a family. It is bound together by values, history, common experiences and affection. It is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a range of behaviors and beliefs, understanding that a shared commitment to the common good far outweighs the inevitable disagreements and disputes that arise from time to time.
At a time of fragmentation and special interest groups, focus has inevitably shifted to the issues that divide people. Thanks to technology and what seems like a myriad of on-line ‘soap-boxes’, it has never been easier for those with a minority viewpoint to dominate and hijack what should be civil and constructive discussions.
But as all of us who live and work in Sault Ste. Marie can attest, a sustainable community rises above this. The strength of a sustainable community comes from the things that bring people together – not those that divide them. And as it is in families, external threats often bring out the best in everyone. These are the times when people join together and work together, setting aside whatever weakens their cause.
Sault Ste. Marie has had its share of such threats over the years – many of them economic. As a northern community that largely relies on steel for direct and indirect employment, we have been toughened by the boom and bust cycles of a global commodity market. More than once, we have had to weather downturns while digging in to keep producing some of the best-quality steel in the world.
Our grit is something that we’re known for. WE ARE THE SOO!
All of us who live here and raise our families here do so out of choice. We share a strong sense of place and a pride in being resourceful, hard-working people. We count on our neighbours. And our neighbours count on us.
That’s something we need to remember.
For the past 11 months, the steel mill that’s at the heart of our local economy has been struggling to restructure its finances and stabilize its operations. Essar Steel Algoma has been through the perfect storm of commodity price collapse, unfair trade practices, equipment malfunction – you name it.
The uncertainty, layoffs, and impacts on creditors and on the community have been hard on all of us. With more bidder review we now have a few more months to see Algoma emerge as a viable business and once again, a leader in the steel industry.
One bid has come forward through the legal process. Potential new ownership must see past those struggles and setbacks to the real value of keeping Algoma up and running. It will be a vote of confidence - and capital - in the business plan for the mill and for the people who work there. But even more than that, it will be a vote of confidence in the families that they support, the businesses in their supply chain and indeed, in the entire community of Sault Ste. Marie.
There are still a lot of details to be hammered out between all those involved in the Algoma restructuring and all parties need to realize that they will not get everything they ask for – or that they feel they deserve. The process is complex and negotiations challenging. It is up to us to come together as a community and demonstrate to a potential buyer, to suppliers, to the labour force and to observers that we are worthy of this investment and that we are prepared to make this venture succeed.
This means demonstrating that we are a strong, resilient and viable community, committed to investment in our steel industry today and into the future.
There are those who say we need to do more to diversify our local economy and make it less dependent on one large employer. We agree. But like a good shopping mall, an anchor tenant makes the rest of the mall more viable. The same can be said for the steel industry in our community.
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce has laid out a number of initiatives in our strategic plan, Vision 2020: LEAD THE WAY, to help us get there.
It is a plan that supports the efforts of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation and the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, Algoma University, Sault College, the Community Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie & Area, local entrepreneurs, our First Nations and many other stakeholders.
We are building today for a future. WE ARE THE SOO!
In the short-term, we MUST work together to secure the future of our steel industry. That has to be a priority. If we make the most of this chance to show all that Sault Ste. Marie has to offer, we will be sending a strong message to future investors and over time, that will further our economic diversification.
We have successfully rallied in the past. When we needed to, we overcame our differences and focused instead on our strengths. Now, we have the opportunity – and the privilege – to do that again… And in so doing, we will confirm what makes us special, what makes us proud to say WE ARE THE SOO!
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce is launching a program called WE ARE THE SOO! It includes an online home for the many stories that unite us as a community. It is meant to reflect our passion for who we are, and to provide a platform where we can share and show the world that WE ARE THE SOO!
We want to encourage you to go to www.wearethesoo.com
, share your story, sign our wall and show your support for the Soo and for a strong tomorrow.