With a population of over 11,000, Estevan is the eighth largest and southernmost city in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada. It was originally settled in 1892 following the expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and over the next half-century grew in size until getting the status of being a city in 1957.
Both the city of Estevan and Estevan No. 5, the rural municipality that surrounds it, have committed to local economic growth and prosperity. Estevan hopes to further boost an already strong economy based on power generation, coal mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and oil and gas drilling by fostering business development, and have developed numerous agreements and working relationships to start this journey.
Fibre to the Door
In addition to the three highways and the main Canadian Pacific Railway line that go through Estevan, the city realized it could provide a better service to its citizens on another highway: the information superhighway. The city worked with Sask Tel’s infiNet Fibre to the Door program, with a goal of deploying fibre broadband infrastructure to support the strategic goal of increasing broadband penetration. Construction started in 2018, and the program already delivers a more positive customer experience and allows customers to connect to their world and enable access to learning, working and entertainment for both consumers and businesses. Further elongation of the program will impact SaskTel’s ability to respond to customer demand for faster speeds and remain competitive.
As of November 2020, Estevan has passed the milestone of 5,000 homes and home-based businesses with fibre and connected 4,000 of them to the next network. Future plans include additional Fiber to the Premises and Fiber to the Business expansion, both in Estevan and elsewhere in Saskatchewan. View the infiNET Coverage Map >>>
The Rural Technology Hub Initiative
Based off the work tech giants like Google have started in the United States, the Economic Development Board has initiated a rural technology hub initiative, a project that seeks to develop the community to accommodate tech innovation and remote working for technology company employees. The hub will include places like a co-working space for entrepreneurs and remote workers, all within close proximity to available housing, restaurants, shops, or other cultural establishments. To help with this process, Estevan worked with Sask I.N.C., a non-profit start-up that helps Saskatchewan entities with innovation.
Since the project began in 2020, over 35 community leaders and stakeholders have been interviewed to help determine the needs of Estevan. A knowledge repository of information has also been developed, along with the early stages of developing an innovation council, and governance of the hub itself. Some of the opportunities that have been identified for the tech hub include partnerships with local industry, academia, and potential use for high school students. As this project moves forwards the potential job opportunities will also be wide ranging besides developers and coders. Potential job opportunities can include a variety of roles at tech companies — from customer service to graphic design to bookkeeping.
The community sees this as a vital step on its path to go from Smart City to Intelligent Community. “Moving from a smart community to an intelligent one, is about engaging local people, entrepreneurs and established businesses as partners in planning and carrying out innovation projects,” explained Susan Letsche, CEO and Founder of Sask I.N.C., which will continue to work with Estevan to develop this project.
The tech hub will become a reality when the space opens to the public in 2022. The new Southeast Business Development Centre will house the new tech hub, the regional business startup centre and the economic development lead for the City of Estevan.
Education Resiliency in the face of COVID-19
The City of Estevan has a college within the community - South East College, and two others within commuting distance: Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Regina. When the COVID 19 pandemic hit, the South East College was faced with postponing programs. To avoid this undesirable outcome, the college developed a Virtual Learning and Blended Delivery plan to continue its post secondary, adult basic education, English as an additional language, and more programs. They reallocated their internal resources to focus on completing the 2019-2020 academic year and prepare for the 2020-2021 year, anticipating that the pandemic would be ongoing.
The program was extremely successful. Working with Saskatchewan Polytechnic, they developed and implemented alternate modes of assessment, and with the help of local coordinators and instructors, the College finished every program with only minor delays and reasonable attrition due to lack of resources. They continue in the 2020-2021 academic year with a blended format, ensuring their students get the best possible education while keeping safe.