By Merna Emara
The Town of Fort Frances has welcomed CAO Faisal Anwar, who is ready to hit the economic ground running after 18 years of experience in three Canadian provinces.
Originally from Pakistan, Anwar moved to Canada in 2005 and got his third master’s degree in applied environmental studies and local economic development from the University of Waterloo.
Anwar got his first job in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, as the economic development officer in 2008. Six years later, he moved to Selkirk, Manitoba, and then to the City of Morden before moving to Fort Frances in August.
Anwar said he has been on a roller coaster of cultural shocks when he moved from Pakistan of a then population of 10 million to Toronto which was 3.5 million. He then moved to Yorkton with a population of 17,000.
Anwar said Fort Frances is a unique town with economic development potential.
“It’s also a nice team and a progressive council to work with,” Anwar said. “Everyone has a different opinion. But at the end of the day, we move forward and work towards a single and common goal or vision.”
He added that there is a need to work on some comprehensive economic growth strategies to diversify the town’s economic base. This will help the town better absorb the closures of economic drivers, such as the paper mill, Anwar said.
“My whole career was working with international organizations or Canadian municipalities from socio economic development to bilateral international trade and investment,” Anwar said. “As well as industrial revitalization, economic and land use planning, marketing, communications and tourism.”
Anwar said while he definitely understands the emotional attachment of this community to the mill, he sees a lot of potential for the land because it is on the edge of the river. He said all stakeholders, including the town, the landowner and the community need to work together.
“It’s not just my vision or the council’s vision, it’s the community’s vision and what the community would like to see there,” Anwar said. “The mill is shut down. We cannot change the past, but we can make a bright future for this community.”
There are three priorities Anwar is looking to tackle: a centralized action plan to implement the strategies outlined in the strategic plan, communication and economic development.
Communication is not just internal, Anwar said, but also involves involving the residents, stakeholders and staff in the organization.
With economic development being on the priority list, a main objective of the strategic plan is diversifying the town’s economic base, generating more revenue and bringing more highly paid jobs and businesses.
“We need a comprehensive economic growth strategy, in which we can set our vision and goals on how we can bring new business and investment and how we can promote Fort Frances, not just a mill town, but also open for other types of businesses as well as tourism,” Anwar said.
The future of the town does not only include bringing youth to Fort Frances, Anwar said, but also retaining our youth and our working class people in town. He added that this could be achieved by providing them opportunities, like bringing new businesses and new investment and fostering the entrepreneurial culture while working with the post secondary education institutions.
“Also skilled trades, how can we bring employers and education institutions together to work on bringing some training courses, which can enhance the skill set of not only the existing workers, [but also] so that current businesses can expand their operations,” Anwar added.
Anwar is married with two children. His son is in grade 12, and the daughter is in grade 3.
“My wife is working with the school division as an educational assistant,” he said. “She had done that in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. She feels really good when she works with children and makes a difference in their lives, because they need some direction as well. We need to maintain and enhance the quality of life for the Fort Frances residents.”
In his free time, Anwar likes to be outdoors and play sports, including cricket, soccer and squash. He was one of the founding members of the Yorkton Cricket Association in Saskatchewan.
Anwar said he is surrounded by hard-working individuals, adding that economic development is a slow process. It’s like preparing the ground to sow the seed.