Community Futures offers businesses financial flexibility
By Karen Stewart of the North Island Eagle
General Manager of Community Futures of Mount Waddington, David Mitchell, has come to the conclusion that, “Unless you’re wanting to start a business or interested in entrepreneurism you probably don’t know what we are or what we do.” In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the main characters are being followed and they keep turning around to ask each other, “Who are those guys.” Mitchell uses that iconic line in his Community Futures Power Point presentations. Mitchell explains, “Our core business is small to medium business development. We do that through a whole range of services from helping a person conceptualize their business, developing a plan around that business, financing that business and then follow up as the business grows and matures.” As well Community Futures helps with business expansion and purchasing an existing business. At the moment the non-profit agency has 65 active loans which run the gamut from micro loans of a few thousand dollars that are paid back in a year or two, to much bigger loans amortized over five years or longer. Flexibility around the terms is something that conventional banks just don’t offer, but Community Futures does. Mitchell uses the example of a seasonal business making interest only payments during the off season with bigger payments during the summer months. Community Futures’ mandate, according to Mitchell, is “to help people that might not qualify for traditional financing. We’re a locally run organization and we know the people we work with.”
The Community Futures office on Hemlock Street in Port McNeill houses the mainstay lending program. Mitchell adds, “We also have a subcontract with North Island Employment to offer Employment BC programming. We have a resource centre and we’re basically a satellite office for NIEFS.” Community Futures offers the Self Employment Program which Mitchell describes as, “An awesome program for someone who wants to start a business. The Self Employment program allows eligible participants to maintain their EI benefits for up to 48 weeks while they get their business off the ground.” Another tenant in the office is Ragged Edge Community Network Society. RECNS provides wireless, high speed internet to rural and remote communities in the region.
Another component to Community Futures is education and training. Twice a year in Port Hardy and Port McNeill Riley Zimmerman who is the Community and Business Development Coordinator, runs a course called Business Start Up. Mitchell says it starts with figuring out whether you have what it takes to start a business and covers business planning, financials including cash flow and launching your business. Another service offered is what Mitchell describes as, “Business ad min skills training, including Introduction to Excel, Basic Bookkeeping and the online accounting program Sage taught by Comptroller Christie Dreger.” These are also offered twice a year in both communities.
There are eight Community Futures across Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, 34 in BC and 268 in Canada. With regional, provincial and national organizations. Mitch ell says, “The basic premise right across the country is pretty much the same. It does vary a bit in terms of application, but we’re all managed by a handful development agencies. Ours is Western Diversification.”
Western Economic Diversification Canada is a federal program that promotes the development and diversification of the economy of Western Canada and advances the interests of the West in national economic policy.
Keeping in touch with other agencies, Mitchell, staff and board members attended the recent Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) Summit in Nanaimo. One of the initiatives talked about at the Summit was launched in September and designates Vancouver Island as a foreign trade zone. One of only 11 in Canada, Mitchell says, “It gives manufacturers and exporters a bit of an advantage in the export market allowing them to defer tariffs into whatever region they’re exporting. That’s a big deal.”
Mitchell says the VIEA Summit was, “really good”, but he was even more impressed by the provincial Community Futures Conference held in Merritt in September, calling it, “one of the best conferences we’ve had in BC.” Some of that was thanks to Roger Brooks a top-rated keynote speaker who is an expert in marketing, tourism, downtown and economic development.
Mitchell was impressed by Brooks’ presentation that focuses on how to attract people and businesses to a community and how important a vibrant downtown or a meeting place is to a community. Adding, “There’s money available through Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) to assist with downtown improvements.” Mitchell envisions a down town business improvement initiative for Port McNeill a project spearheaded by businesses, Chamber of Commerce, Council and Community Futures.
When asked what other groups Community Futures partners with, Mitchell replies, “Who don’t we partner with? We work with a lot of different groups. I’m looking forward to establishing good relationships with the new mayors and councils across the North Island.” Mitchell keeps in touch with the Chamber of Commerce, is a Rotary member in Port McNeill and works closely with the Regional District of Mount Waddington. At a recent Rotary meeting, Mitchell talked about My Vancouver Island North. A collaborative project underway through VINTAS, the Vancouver Island North Training and Attraction Society, which involves the Regional District, Community Futures, First Nations, Western Forest Products and regional stake holders working together with a common goal of career development, education, and the attraction and retention of people to the North Island.
For the past eight years Community Futures has held an annual barbecue raising funds for the Christmas Hamper Fund. Originally designed to replace an annual open house that didn’t always attract much attention. The first barbecue raised $600, this year it was $6,000. Mitchell admits “We’ve gotten pretty good at it,” but laments, “Too bad we can’t get the weather right.” Changing the date from mid-October around Small Business Week to mid-September to the first week of September it’s rained six out of nine years. “It doesn’t stop anybody, we’ve added a big tent and the high school lets us use their big barbecue.” Another way that Community Futures helps North Island communities.
For more information about CFMW programs and courses visit their website at https://cfmw.ca/