While many people at this point in their career would be thinking about slowing down or even retirement, Guy Labine has done the opposite.
Labine moved from Canada, with his wife, Michelle Tonner, a retired managing producer of a national news program back in Sudbury, Ontario, to take the job as president and CEO of the Arizona Science Center in March. Their four grown sons — the youngest is finishing college — stayed back in Canada.
Prior to taking the role in Phoenix, Labine served as the CEO of Science North, the second largest science center in Canada, for 11 years. He has worked at the science center and in economic development for more than 25 years.
“I feel like a young kid again — super excited,” he said in an interview at the science center on only his eighth day on the job. “I could have easily finished my career at the organization I left. I brought in record amounts of funding, a number of programs that will span the next three or four years. But I was so pulled to this opportunity, from the foundational pieces of understanding the Arizona Science Center. As I discovered more and got to meet the board, our team here, our partners in the community and other organizations in the community and then got to experience Phoenix, it was a no-brainer why I should be here and why I am so thrilled to be here and call Phoenix my home and take this organization to the next level.”
Labine said visitorship is recovering at the Science Center following the waning Covid-19 pandemic. The new exhibit, Survival of the Slowest, staying at the center through Aug. 7 is helping with that. The temporary exhibit features daily presentations from the likes of a sloth, a boa constrictor, red-foot tortoise, a bearded dragon and other creatures.
Why make the move from Canada to Arizona? The opportunity presented itself and as I got deeper into the discussion with the board, and with staff and meeting with partners and funders and others in the community, I just felt a strong pull. Both a strong pull because of the foundation of this science center and Chevy Humphreys, who was the previous CEO, was a great leader for our field and for this science center. It has a strong team, it has an engaged board, and it has hundreds of folks in the community that really want the science center to be more impactful, more relevant, and an even more successful science center that it is. So, I put all those things together and see an amazing opportunity for me to be part of a strong team, to be able to grow the organization and to be able to increase its relevancy, its impact and its collaboration not only here in Phoenix, but across the state of Arizona.
What’s a big long-term goal you have for the science center? That big bold idea is still something we are working on. The organization has had, prior to Covid, plans for a major renewal and expansion of the science center. Clearly, that’s still the intent.
One of the things I’d like to be able to do is to fuel and ignite change here on a more regular and frequent basis. So, it’s important to do that — changing exhibits or other visitor experiences. A significant part of our audience now, obviously, is school groups and teachers, but there’s a significant number of tourists who come to town. We’re located next door to the convention center. It’s a great opportunity to partner with them, and Phoenix has a growing population. So being able to capture the imagination of those individuals who are coming to visit Phoenix, or who are moving here, and the opportunity for them to be amazed, entertained and educated on a constantly changing basis is something that’s critically important. So, driving that change at a more frequent level. And really being a partner to the community to be able to be seen by the tourism industry, by educators, by donors, by partners who work in this field, by the private sector who are looking to hire a skilled, talented workforce, all of the above. I think it’s important for them to see the Arizona Science Center as a critical partner in their success and so over the long-term I think is something that we want to continue to build.
What motivates you to continue to do this work? I fundamentally believe that inspiring an interest in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math], whether its informal STEM education at a young age, with students and teachers and being a strong partner to them, and the cascading consequences of that interaction on a repeated basis, it can change the lives of people. The ability for us to be a strong economic engine for the community by attracting more visitors to the community and getting people who are visiting to stay longer, or work with the private sector in equipping them with a talented workforce or work with parts of the community who are disadvantaged and being able to raise their spirit and hope in a better place. Work with First Nation communities. You put all of that together and the mission and mandate of us to inspire lifelong interest in science and science engagement, to me, is fundamentally important. That’s what motivates me to lead an organization that can be a better partner, a better collaborator and a better organization that can drive that. It’s rewarding to see the spark in a young child who figures out a concept or who engages with our special exhibits. The same applies to adults. Fundamentally the role that science centers’ play in society whether it’s here, or anywhere else in the world, I think is key to being a partner in the community that can really drive that level of success.
Being new to the Valley, what’s something else people should know about you? I served on city council in Rayside-Balfour, Ontario. I was one of the youngest councilors in the community I lived in, and I was elected to the first term and then claimed a second term. I have a deep appreciation for leadership at all levels of government. I think that is where I got my love for economic development and community development. That’s why I pursued a career in that field.
What’s your favorite thing about the Valley so far? I think it’s a combination of the spirit of the community, the people that I’ve met, the warmth that I’ve felt, and the spirit of collaboration that exists. My wife and I are foodies, so we’ve had amazing diversity of culinary arts that, I think, are so deeply rooted in the community but so diverse. And just an overall quality of life that, I think, is pretty spectacular and one that we look forward to fully embracing. I love the diversity. I’m a sports fan, so I love the diversity of sports. Before moving here, I was a fan of the Cardinals. I am looking forward to being a season ticket holder and seeing baseball and basketball. It’s amazing that there’s hockey here as well.
What’s your favorite hobby? I like a variety of outdoor sporting activities whether it’s biking, fishing or golfing. Back in Canada, I hunted. We like walking. We like trails. I am just looking forward to really experiencing all the state has to offer.
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