Eve O’Leary may be Portage la Prairie’s biggest booster, and she has only lived here for a few short months. The recently hired Executive Director of Portage Regional Economic Development arrived in November 2019 from Flin Flon but has been in Canada for six years since immigrating from Ireland in 2014.
Although it’s the job of the PRED Executive Director to promote Portage, O’Leary has firsthand experience as a newcomer to our small city. And what she will tell you is that Portage la Prairie is “awesome”.
Her first impression of Portage was simple: “I loved it”, she says. “I was very overwhelmed by how beautiful it is and the amazing opportunities it has. I was fascinated by the main street, too.”
But it is truly the people that made her fall in love with her new home. “Before I even got here I had about 25 people reach out to congratulate me on the role, and say they were excited to meet me when I arrived. I just felt like that is just the most amazing welcome anyone could receive going into new community.
I’ve lived in many places and never received a welcome like that. It was such a wonderful feeling.”
O’Leary was looking for a change when she decided to leave Ireland. Her uncle and aunt had moved to Canada in 2012 and told her how amazing it was and how awesome the people were.
“I said hey, I want to give it a go.” After coming on a two-year work permit through the International Experience Canada Program, she went through the Provincial Nominee Program to get her permanent residency.
In Ireland she worked in a large multinational food service company for six years, starting out in the complaints department, then moving through various other departments including accounts and IT. This background “gave me the skills for the customer service piece,” of economic development, she says. “There is a lot of dealing with the public and being very flexible; you have to be a people person.”
Continuous education is another aspect of working in economic development, and O’Leary has been pursing education in the field since arriving in Canada. “It’s interesting talking to peers across Canada, in that nobody actually grows up thinking ‘hey, I want to be an economic development officer,’” she explains. “It requires a different skill set.”
She has since received designations and certifications in economic development through the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association, a diploma from the University of Waterloo, and certification as a Technician Aboriginal Economic Developer (TAED).
O’Leary was recently honoured by her colleagues with the Economic Developers Association of Manitoba Rising Star Award for her work with the FDC Regional Economic Development Commission. That position served the communities of Flin Flon, Manitoba, Creighton, Saskatchewan and Denare Beach, Saskatchewan. The award is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution in the field of economic development and has demonstrated exceptional best practices.
You won’t hear O’Leary boasting about her accomplishments, though – she would much rather boast about Portage being a great place to live. “Portage la prairie really does have it all,” she exclaims. “When I look around, it genuinely does – from recreation, to business, to health care…and for newcomers coming to the community, it’s so important to recognize that.”
In fact, O’Leary is unable to name just one favourite thing about her new home. “The people, the culture, the quality of life, the fishing!” she exclaims. “There is just so much to do here.”
Her best tip for people thinking of relocating to Portage is simple. “You should move here. You should raise your family here.” From O’Leary’s perspective, there are an incredible number of services available in our small city. “I did a tour of PCI last week and was blown away with the number of different avenues that students can take once they’re finished high school. The number of businesses we have here is amazing.”
Naturally, there are things about home that O’Leary misses. “I always say if I could just uproot my family…family and friends is what I miss the most. And the Irish take away chippers, I miss that too!” (‘Chippers’ are Irish-Italian fast food restaurants that offer a specialized fish and chip.)
Despite missing family and friends, having social media and technology make it so much easier to stay connected. “And, here’s another reason to move to Portage – it’s close to an international airport.”
Since beginning her new position with PRED in early December, O’Leary has been busy “immersing myself into the community, and working on a strategic plan with the PRED Board of Directors.” In her spare time, she loves music, reading, travel, and of course, “I like to fish! Really love fishing.”
After such a short time, O’Leary already considers herself a proud Portager. When told how seeing Portage from a newcomer’s eyes often contrasts with how long-time residents of the area feel, O’Leary points out, “everyone has chosen to live here. We all have a choice, and I chose Portage la Prairie because I love it here. Love it!”
“Portage is awesome!”