Former U.S. Marine captures national economic development award
By Sam Laskaris
James Stevens is one busy guy.
For starters, Stevens serves as the director of commercial operations for Millbrook First Nation, a Nation in Nova Scotia that he is a member of.
Stevens is also in his second term of being a councillor for his First Nation.
“It’s definitely all about time management,” Stevens said of how his juggles his work duties. “They are two distinct jobs.”
Stevens is required to attend two council meetings each month. But he said his two positions in his community keep him busy around the clock. At times he utilizes his vacation days to fulfil his councillor responsibilities.
“During the day, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, it’s all economic development,” Stevens said of where his main focus is during those hours. “And it does go into the weekend sometimes.”
Stevens’ responsibilities included serving as his First Nation’s leasing agent for all of its properties. He’s also in charge of property management, helping to deal with any issues that arise.
And client relations management is also part of his job, meaning he frequently meets with tenants to see things are running smoothly and to address any concerns.
Stevens had been hired as Millbrook’s economic development officer in January of 2019. The following January he was named the First Nation’s director of commercial operations.
Stevens’ efforts have not gone unrecognized. In fact, he has been selected as the winner of the 2023 Economic Developer of the Year award handed out by Cando.
He was chosen as the recipient during the Cando Conference, which was held in late June in Membertou, N.S.
The other finalist for the award was Thomas Benjoe, who is the president and CEO of File Hills Qu’Appelle Developments in Saskatchewan, a corporation that represents the economic interests of a tribal council comprised of 11 First Nations in the province.
Both Stevens and Benjoe were allotted time to make presentations about their careers at the national conference. Due to travel difficulties in the days leading up to the conference, Benjoe was forced to do a virtual presentation.
“It was a pretty good experience,” Stevens said of his participation at the event. “At the end of the day, to get to present in front of your peers and to be in the presence of all these other economic development officers from across the country was pretty great.”
Stevens had previously won a regional award for his economic development efforts.
“It’s nice to win the national award,” he added.
Two other awards were presented at the Cando Conference.
Norway House Cree Nation of Manitoba was selected as the Community of the Year. And Bayside Development Corporation from Paqtnkek First Nation in Nova Scotia was named the winner in the Indigenous Private Sector Business category.
Stevens, who was born in New Hampshire city of Manchester, served in the United States Marine Corps from 2000-2004.
He believes many of the skills he acquired during his military life are transferrable to his current positions.
“It definitely helped me with my discipline and my people skills,” he said. “I can speak in front of people.”
Stevens added his time spent in the military also carried over to his post-secondary days when plenty of commitment was required in his studies. He graduated in 2010 with a commerce degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Stevens is thrilled his First Nation is now thriving in terms of economic development.
“I think it’s an amazing story,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”
Stevens can take a bit of credit for some recent developments his First Nation is involved with.
For example, he was instrumental in the construction of a new 68-unit apartment building that started welcoming tenants last year.
Though Millbrook First Nation is located within the city of Truro, it also has reserve land in three other communities, including Cole Harbour, where the new apartment building is located.
“It was fully leased before construction,” Stevens said of the building.
Stevens is also thrilled he played a role with the construction of a new 39,000-square foot building that will serve as the new home for the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq office.
“Bringing them along under one roof is a game changer,” Stevens said.
Another massive victory under Stevens’ leadership is the fact Farm Credit Canada now has a branch in Millbrook First Nation.
“I think it’s huge,” Stevens said. “And it will help in attracting Indigenous talent for them.”
Farm Credit Canada’s Millbrook location is the first one in an Indigenous community in Canada.
“It shows we can be a place where a crown corporation can locate to and be in our community,” Stevens said.