Entrepreneur Jason Aspin says Prince Edward Islanders need to start dreaming bigger. Aspin is the CEO of Aspin Kemp Enterprises and moved his entire business operations last year from Ontario to P.E.I.
©Guardian file photo
GEORGETOWN — He’s not running for politics, but an Island entrepreneur who brought his business empire home last year is challenging Canada’s smallest province to shake off oil addiction and kiss pesticides good-bye.
Jason Aspin told the recent annual awards banquet of the Eastern P.E.I. chamber of commerce the province should set a vision — and a target date — to harness alternate energy systems, switch to 100 per cent organic farming and create a sound financial model for citizens.
And judging by the applause, along with social media postings, the 150 guests attending the business banquet at the Kings Playhouse were giving thumbs up.
“We’ve got resources that are invaluable like clean air, fertile ground and an ocean all around us,’’ he said. “Having spent 20 years working around the world you start to realize what we have here and we just need to dream bigger.”
Aspin is the CEO of Aspin Kemp Enterprises and moved his entire business operations last year from Ontario to Montague and Poole’s Corner creating 150 well-paying jobs.
When the graduate of Montague regional high school completed his inspiring address, master of ceremony Roger Younker joked with the guest speaker asking if he was planning to become premier.
“Part of the reason I am here and came back to live and work here is because the community cares about business,’’ he said.
“We could have done our company work anywhere, but we wouldn’t have the support and the people we have working with us ... this is a spot to be creative and innovative.”
Aspin is a graduate of Canadian Coast Guard College specializing in power and integrated systems equipment for the oil and gas sector and has contracts worldwide.
The company was awarded an $80-million contract last spring with General Electric’s Global Offshore and Marine division to provide switchboards, variable frequency drives, and other electrical components for drilling ships. The company is currently transporting large components from Poole’s Corner to South Korea to supply five huge drilling ships.
“I just returned from Beijing (China) and the pollution was so bad I couldn’t see across this room,’’ he said. “We’ve got amazing opportunities here and we need to focus on that.”
The banquet drew business leaders throughout the region along with Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis, the three Conservative leadership candidates, and a number of MLAs, mayor and village chairs.
P.E.I. may lack oil and gas, but Aspin said that sector is slowly phasing out.
“The oil and gas sector has been great for us, but it’s in the twilight and the world will face tough problems that will require innovation. The places that have oil and gas aren’t going to lead those innovations ... it’s the places that don’t have oil and gas that will.”
Aspin said there is energy “all around us” and North America has simply become “lazy” and dependent on oil transfusions.
“We know we have oceans full of water with rising temperatures ... and if we could lower that temperature by a single degree we would create energy for a thousand years,’’ he told the crowd. “But finding a solution to that question is the key.”
Aspin said P.E.I. should set a tangible target date to establish goals and become a leader in energy systems harnessing wind, sun and tide. He also addressed the growing provincial debt.
“If we don’t manage to do a successful financial model for our province, we are going to be in trouble,’’ he said. “Let’s become a jurisdictional model as well ... we have a unique chance to do that. Instead of following others, let’s take the lead.”
The Island native said P.E.I. could abandon pesticides altogether and become the first organic farming region where a bevy of new businesses would thrive.
“You don’t switch over right away, but if we push in that direction we could develop all kinds of amazing new business. And it’s not impossible for P.E.I. to become a net exporter of alternate energy.”
Aspin said there is no silver bullet to such visions, especially with a government system that can change direction every four years. He said the province needs to establish a long term non-political policy that focuses on knowledge and education and a policy that develops entrepreneurs like the Island’s farmers and fishermen.
“We have our own jurisdiction here, our own province, and we need to pick some goals ... these are just some that I am passionate about,’’ he said.
“If we could be energy independent by a certain date or become the world’s first million acre organic farm ... these are big goals, but they can be done. We need to have a vision and become the best at something.”
To conclude his chamber address, Aspin pulled a legendary quote attributed to American inventor Thomas Edison in
“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around the house for fuel when we should use nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. I’ll put my money on sun and solar energy for power ... and hope we don’t have to wait until the oil and coal runs out before we tap it.”