The Cape Breton Partnership celebrates 20 years of building a thriving Unama’ki – Cape BretonJune 12, 2024

When the Cape Breton Partnership first opened its doors in 2004, it had an ambitious goal of attracting 100 private sector-led Investors in its first year. Since then, the organization has evolved as a crucial component of the economic development landscape of Unama’ki – Cape Breton. Now celebrating its 20th year, the Cape Breton Partnership is taking a look back at the last two decades and sharing how it all began, and what have been the milestones along the way.

The beginnings of the Cape Breton Partnership can be traced back to the overarching goal of improving the economic outlook for the Island, bridging gaps in economic development, and uniting the business community through private sector involvement.

Keith MacDonald, who was one of the first three employees of the organization, and who was first hired as General Manager before becoming President & CEO of the organization from 2007 to 2018, shares how the Partnership was formed, and how it has grown to the economic development catalyst its known as today.

Former President & CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership, Keith MacDonald, addresses the room at the 2016 Investor Summit at the Keltic Lodge at the Highlands in Victoria County.

“At that time, there was a great deal of conversation about the private sector taking more of a leadership role in economic development. At the time, there were quite a few provincial and federal economic development groups, but all had limited to no private sector involvement,” explains MacDonald, who now serves as CAO of the Municipality of the County of Inverness. “Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation (ECBC) was looking at some models, and the Halifax Partnership model was something that rose to the top being a private sector-led organization, and really moving things forward in the Halifax region at the time.”

MacDonald explains that there was a strong consensus that this model could work here, so various private sector leaders were asked to participate to come together to form a board, which included a strong cross-section of businesses from communities across the Island.

Another important ingredient that makes up the historical mosaic of the organization is a piece of work that was instrumental in setting a collaborative plan to economic development: the Prosperity Framework. The framework served as a strategic roadmap designed to guide the region towards sustainable economic development and growth. The framework outlined key priorities and initiatives aimed at fostering economic development, enhancing quality of life, and building a resilient and prosperous future for Unama’ki – Cape Breton.

Former President & CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership, Carla Arsenault, moderates a panel of career experts at the 2018 Business Youth Symposium at the Civic Centre in Port Hawkesbury

Fast forward to today, and the spiritual successor of this work can be found in Forward. Together. : Unama’ki – Cape Breton’s Economic Development & Population Growth Plan, wrapped up in October 2023 and being launched throughout 2024, available at

“The pandemic really changed the business landscape, not just here in Unama’ki – Cape Breton, but for the whole world. Not only did we not close the doors to business support, we doubled down in our efforts to make sure that the business community had the resources they needed at their fingertips,” shares Jeremy Martell, Director of Communications at the Cape Breton Partnership. “For the first time in 50 years, we also saw our population increasing and we needed a plan to help us grow intentionally with the proper resources and supports in this new post-pandemic world, while also helping the Province to achieve its goal of doubling the population by 2060.”

Now in its 20th year, the Cape Breton Partnership’s team is supported by up to 30 staff based across the Island and is proud to collaborate with more than 150 Investors, whose investment supports the growth of our Island. The Cape Breton Partnership also operates two Regional Enterprise Networks – the Cape Breton Regional Enterprise Network (CB REN) and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Regional Enterprise Network (CBRM REN). The REN model is a collaborative and progressive approach to economic development across rural regions throughout the province, and was a pivotal moment for the Partnership with both RENs receiving support from the Provincial of Nova Scotia, First Nation communities, and all five municipalities.

“The creation of the RENs really helped the Partnership focus its attention Island-wide. While we were Island-wide before, and valued that approach, the RENS allowed us to grow our team and have staff living and working in communities across the Island,” said Blayr Billard, Chief Operating Officer of the Cape Breton Partnership who has been with the organization for 15 years through different roles. “At our core, that is our greatest strength for both our Island and our team. Unique individuals and communities working together to accomplish something bigger than any of us on our own. Collaboration and connection is the key.”

In addition to the REN model, the organization also facilitates a number of programs and initiatives that focus on nurturing welcoming communities and providing supports to newcomers and the business community, such as the Cape Breton Connector Program, the Cape Breton Local Immigration Partnership, and the Cape Breton Welcome Network, to name a few. Through these programs, initiatives, services, and more, the Cape Breton Partnership has supported the professional and employment development of hundreds of university and college student graduates over the last 20 years, helping to foster leadership and launch careers across the Island and region.

A full list of the Cape Breton Partnership’s current initiatives and services can be viewed at

The team of the Cape Breton Partnership gather at the 2023 Investor Summit at the Inverary Resort on Baddeck Bay in Victoria County.

“The journey of the Cape Breton Partnership began with a vision to revitalize the local economy and create opportunities for growth. Through strategic initiatives and partnerships with First Nations communities, all levels of government, businesses, and community organizations, the Cape Breton Partnership has worked tirelessly to achieve its goals, while fostering collaboration, innovation, job creation, and economic diversification,” says Tyler Mattheis, current President & CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership. “As we welcome new and emerging industries and provide sector-specific support to those looking to grow or diversify their business, we are able to make use of the important groundwork our predecessors and colleagues put into place so that we can continue to build a thriving Unama’ki – Cape Breton for generations to come.”

The Cape Breton Partnership is proud to be Unama’ki – Cape Breton’s partner in economic development by providing the expertise, supports and resources the business community needs to succeed, while helping make the Island a great place to live, work, and invest.