Rothesay — Chet Phelps may be a millionaire many times over, but he’s no stranger to failure. In fact, the 54-year-old resident of Rothesay’s posh Westfield neighbourhood says his consistently bad business ideas have allowed him to a build a fortune by securing loan after forgivable loan from a long line of New Brunswick governments. Phelps’ latest venture — a call centre that sells call centres to other call centres — just received $3 million in Gallant administration-backed loan guarantees despite its being an undeniably bad idea.
“It’s a stinker. Won’t last a month,” Phelps told The Manatee over poolside drinks. “But it’ll help pay off that last trip to the casino in Moncton, and maybe get me some jet-skis and cocaine.
“Don’t matter what party or what face they got at the top. From Bernie Lord to that new feller with the haircut, they never heard an idea they didn’t like so long as it’s about fish, schools or call centres,” Phelps said, gesturing to a stack of boxes overflowing with loan approvals piled under a gilt framed painting of Jesus wearing an Alpine hat and driving a rhinestone-studded Bricklin. “And I guess I got a million of ’em.”
Phelps has breezed through dozens of provincial startup loans for a wide-ranging portfolio of failed businesses, including a non-accredited college “for soup lovers,” a lamprey petting zoo, a facility that manufactures sports cars from medical marijuana, and a wind-powered call centre that contacts New Brunswick residents to tell them that they are being contacted by a wind-powered call centre.
None have lasted more than a year.
“Sometimes I say I’m from N.B., other times I tell them I’m from Texas. One time, I said I was Willy Wonka and needed money for a chocolate-covered spruce budworm factory. Don’t matter, they always cough up, they don’t ask for payback and the taxpayers don’t say boo,” Phelps laughed.
Phelps chalks up his longevity and success as New Brunswick’s most prolific professional defaulter as much to knowing which businesses to avoid as to his shrewd eye for unworkable business ideas.
“I don’t go near oil, forestry or trucking. Leave the boys who really run the show here in New Brunswick alone, and you can do what you want,” said Phelps. “In the meantime, all I need are my horrible ideas and a government willing to throw money at them.”