Since starting as the new Economic Development Officer for the Town of Fort Frances in November, Martin Chitohwa has settled in and is learning about what the town and region has to offer.
Chitohwa comes to Fort Frances with a long career in development both in Canada and overseas.
He first moved to Canada from Zimbabwe to study at the University of Manitoba in 1996. From U of M he went on to work in Thompson, so he’s no stranger to the cold.
“After graduating I went to Thompson, Manitoba. That’s when I started the journey of economic development and business development working for Community Futures there in Thompson,” Chitohwa Said. “What struck me in terms of economic development was just to see how a town can benefit from efforts of individuals who are actually committed to the town and making businesses profit.”
After some time in Thompson he moved between Canada and Africa where he worked on mining projects as well as community development. As his children got older he decided it was time to settle down and he wanted to do that in Canada. He settled in Sudbury hoping to build on his experiences in the mining field. While in Sudbury he worked on his MBa through Athabasca University.
He found his way to Fort Frances when visiting a relative last year.
“I have a cousin who was employed in the healthcare sector here,” he said. “He invited me over the summer to come and spend a few days with him…We were sitting one day and I was looking at the paper, your paper (the Times) and I saw the advertisement for this position. I said ‘I can apply for that job, it’s within my space.’ So I applied and here I am.”
That trip also showed Chitohwa the possibilities the area has.
“We went to one of the trade shows in Emo and something just struck me,” he said. “I asked him (his cousin), ‘do you even know the opportunities you have in this district?’ and he said ‘what do you mean, I am in the health field.’ I said ‘you have no idea, this town is blessed with opportunities. Look at all these people here at the tradeshow these opportunities are waiting to be explored.’”
Since arriving in November he says he’s felt very welcome to Fort Frances.
“I’ve been struck with the warmth and friendliness of the people in this community,” he said. “The town is so rich when it comes to the natural beauty, and I wonder if locals really, really understand that.”
He’s also had the opportunity to meet with local stakeholders and has been impressed by their dedication.
“I was in a meeting with some of the community leaders, I call them builders. These people, they are so committed to this town, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “We discussed many issues that have to do with retaining youth within the town, which is a community effort and looking at sustainability issues.”
He has a monthly meeting set with the Rainy River Future Development Corporation’s Angela Halvorsen and Geoff Gillon. He has also had the opportunit to get up to date on the town’s economic situation by the Town’s former Economic Development Consultant Tanis Drysdale.
As he learns more about the town Chitowha says he’s looking forward to meeting with more and more community members and working on developing the offerings of the area.
More recently he has been tasked with trying to replace the service of the Fort Frances Airport with the departure of Bearskin Airlines.
In his spare time he says age limits him now, but in his free time he does enjoy athletic pursuit and watching sports.
“I used to be a multi-sport sort of guy, but now I don’t mind going to the gym and getting some exercise,” his time in Canada has also grown a love for hockey and Canadian football.