CREECO has a lot to be proud of these days, particularly one of its many shining stars. Business Development Coordinator Rodney Hester has not only been recognized nationally for his efforts, he has made major strides in industry for the Crees.

Last September, Hester was recognized by the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO) as Economic Developer of the Year. In being awarded this prestigious honour, Hester beat out candidates from First Nations across Canada and other major players at the three-day conference that ran September 27-30 in Niagara Falls.

While the candidates from every province and territory had been whittled down to a shortlist prior to the conference, it was swift speaking at the event that made Hester stand out.

“Mike Fontaine from Manitoba was a candidate along with me and we both delivered our speeches on different occasions at that event. At the end of the day it was the participants at the conference and the selection committee that decided who was going to win that award based on the information and success stories we were able to present,” said Hester.

To earn the top position, Hester gave a speech at the event on the role he has played in economic development for the Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company (CREECO) and what this has done for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.

While Hester hasn’t been with CREECO since its inception in 1982, he did highlight what his role has been since joining the team. Admittedly, Hester said he was most proud of CREECO’s last two major deals: forming a partnership with Guy Baril to form Eeyou Baril, a construction supply company, and the realizing of CREECO’s dream of opening a new Quality Inn in Val-d’Or. His speech showcased these two major accomplishments.

“I played a leading role in Eeyou Baril because as the Business Development Coordinator of CREECO, my job is to pursue development and opportunities. In this case, it was a partnership and so I worked with Guy Baril for about a year on it while we were developing it,” said Hester.

This particular partnership not only has given construction industry of the north a new and very competitive player to do business with when it comes to selecting who will provide materials for a new project but also the opportunity to play the same role in other provinces.

“We are not only going to remain in Eeyou Istschee but we are going to go with whatever development opportunity opens up for us. We can go to Ontario, Manitoba and beyond. Eeyou Baril has become part of the CREECO family of companies,” Hester added.

At the moment however, the biggest buzz is all about the opening of the new Quality Inn and Suites in Val-d’Or that CREECO has built in partnership with Val-d’Or Mayor Fernand Trahan, who also owns the L’Escale Hotel across the street.

While the new hotel is slated to have its grand opening on March 17, progress has been so quick on the project that the hotel is actually open for business two full weeks ahead of schedule.

“It is kind of surreal because you walk into this hotel right now, this is where I am, and it is real. It’s something that a lot work and effort was put into and now we’re seeing the fruits of our labour. This is a project that will instill pride in the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and it is a project that’s going to reap long-term benefits for our people and our economy,” said Hester, calling from the hotel’s conference room.

All the members of the Cree Board of Compensation were at the hotel as Hester spoke to the Nation, giving the conference room its first real whirl. Hester said everyone was beaming with pride as the Crees have now become a major player in the hospitality industry.

Still, looking back on the last few years of CREECO’s progress, Hester recognizes that the entity may not have achieved many of its successes without the influence and vision of its former president, the late Albert W. Diamond.

Diamond, who was a mentor to everyone whoever worked for CREECO, is being remembered at the hotel in a special way as the new hotel’s executive conference room now bears his name. Under that moniker, the conference room alone serves as a symbol of Cree accomplishment and success.

As for what’s next for CREECO, the sky is the limit. Hester said he and the rest of entity are keeping their eyes and ears open as they plan to keep moving forward for the advancement of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee.