Collaboration Key to Growth in Calais and St. Stephen

By Lura Jackson


Momentum is building between the sister cities of Calais and St. Stephen in terms of generating economic development and long-term growth. In St. Stephen, the population has increased in the past year and a half by 100 people, and approximately 200 jobs are now available for young professionals, in part due to the efforts of the newly formed Future St. Stephen and their marketing efforts. In Calais, the continuing infrastructure development of the city is one of the catalysts contributing to its future growth, along with the focused efforts of St. Croix Chamber of Commerce Director Helen Messemer-Thomas in building a collaborative network that actively promotes the region. 

Two years ago, Future St. Stephen was formed when approximately 85 businesspeople and community members that “wanted to see the town improve and weren’t prepared to wait until somebody else did it” got together, explained President Richard Fulton. By incorporating board members from the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement Area, city administration, Executive Assistants from the Provincial and Federal levels and representatives from businesses in the area, the organization has quickly and effectively established a working plan on how to encourage St. Stephen to grow. One of the goals of the Future St. Stephen is to increase the population of the city by 1,000 over ten years. 

Knowing that they would need outside expertise to conduct a marketing campaign – as Fulton put it, “We’re really good at knowing what we don’t know” – the group enlisted marketing firm BrainWorks Razor of Moncton to generate a marketing strategy to target young professionals and active retirees. The firm put together a package that includes videos of St. Stephen residents, a “lure book”, and a “key to the city”, being a USB stick in the shape of a key with the videos loaded onto it. 

The package created for St. Stephen is not exclusive to them, and Messemer-Thomas is already planning on recreating it using Calais’s own particular flair. “We’re going to mirror this,” Messemer-Thomas said. “We’ll hand people the ‘key to Calais’, and we’ll use the [upcoming] magazine as our lure book.” Videos showcasing the region will be produced by a volunteer professional filmographer in the late spring, and the referenced magazine is already in the works with a planned launch date of April.

The development of the magazine itself has been a collaboration between various entities. It was prompted in part through the recognition that St. Stephen has been publishing a business directory for decades, which has generated much of their chamber membership. Rather than just a business directory, however, Messemer-Thomas wanted to create a magazine with feature articles showcasing attractions on both sides of the river. The magazine has been very popular around the region with businesses throughout the extended community joining the effort and locations up and down the East Coast offering to help promote it once it is published. The number of anticipated copies has continued to grow, and it is now expected that 15,000 will be part of the initial printing. The magazine will be published once each year in preparation for the summer tourist season. 

Even though they are separated by a few hundred feet, there are some differences between St. Stephen and Calais, which Messemer-Thomas acknowledges. St. Stephen’s target demographic of young professionals and retirees is slightly different than Calais’s. “Over here, we have a lot of second-career people who have retired from the corporate world, buying houses inexpensively, and starting second cottage industries,” Messemer-Thomas said. Calais has some unique strengths, such as Washington County Community College, which Messemer-Thomas is actively working with to provide hands-on experiences to students and new skill-building classes such as Adobe Photoshop 2018 and Marketing Promotion for Small Businesses. With that said, however, the research firms have identified “affordable living, waterfront living, and being an international destination” as the top three desirable attributes of St. Stephen, and those are easily mirrored in Calais. 

Having been invited to sit on research and planning teams in St. Stephen, Messemer-Thomas says the collaboration has been very rewarding. “It’s worked out very well in exchanging information. We’ve doubled our resources,” she said.

Messemer-Thomas sees the growth in St. Stephen and the marketing development in Calais to be among the positive indicators that the region is well-poised for the future. “The potential is unlimited,” she said. “You have people who have been working for decades building really good, solid businesses offering wonderful products. There’s a lot of creativity here, an entrepreneurial spirit, a lot of family-based businesses... Calais’s time has come.” 

To reach Messemer-Thomas for more information about the upcoming “Best Kept Secrets Way Down East” magazine, e-mail