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Communities of Opportunity: Community Futures Development Corporations

Network assists businesses across Northern Ontario
Frank and Gail O’Connor have been running the Voyageurs’ Lodge & Cookhouse since 2003, thanks to financial support from the Sault Ste. Marie & Area Community Development Corp., one of 16 Community Futures Development Corporations across Northern Ontario.

Community economic development success stories typically showcase thriving local businesses, but the organizations that helped them to that stage are often overlooked. The CDC of Sault Ste. Marie and Area is one of the Community Futures Development Corporations (CFDCs) operating in Northern Ontario assisting small business in Sault and area for over 30 years.

CDC clients Frank and Gail O’Connor moved from London, Ont., to Batchawana Bay where they purchased an existing building along Highway 17 just north of Sault Ste. Marie. In 2003, they approached the Community Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie & Area (CDC) and other financial institutions for assistance to purchase the property and open the Voyageurs’ Lodge & Cookhouse (restaurant and nine-unit motel).

Looking to build on their success, they approached the CDC of SSM again in 2008 when they were expanding their business for renovations to house a LCBO agency store as well as the addition of a gas station.

“We couldn’t simply stand by and wait for customers to come to us…we had to create the destination,” said Frank.

“The CDC was there to help us initially start up our business venture, and several years later, when we needed more infrastructure capital, they were there again. They have been a vital partner which has been instrumental to our success,” said Frank.

Since the business opened, the Voyageurs’ Lodge & Cookhouse has received the 2015 Certificate of Excellence through Trip Advisor. In 2014, they were awarded “Best of the Lake-Fish Dinner” and “Best of the Lake-Staff.” Through the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, they were awarded Entrepreneur/Business of the Year. Tourism Sault Ste. Marie awarded them with Business of the Year. Northern Ontario Business awarded them Company of the Year (1-15 employees).

The business currently has seating for 60 patrons and employs over 40 staff throughout the spring and summer season.

“Overall, we differentiate ourselves from traditional lenders by understanding that one size doesn’t fit all,” said Dan Friyia, Executive Director of the CDC of Sault Ste. Marie and Area. “We tailor our loans based on the unique needs of each client.”

CFDCs are autonomous not-for-profits, which provide access to capital for small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises, and free business technical support and planning services. There are 24 CFDCs in Northern Ontario, all federally funded through FedNor. Repayable financing is available up to $150,000 for business startup, expansion, modernization, acquisition, and stabilization that creates or maintains jobs. The CDC of Sault Ste. Marie and Area has been in business for 31 years, providing $18.2 million in loans to 584 businesses impacting an estimated 2,800 jobs.

“In addition to our in-house lending, over $30 million is currently invested in northeastern Ontario businesses through an Investment Pool operated in concert with the other 14 CFDCs in the northeast region,” said Friyia.

CFDCs have also been offering Northeastern Ontario Youth Internship positions (NEOYIPs) to local businesses since 2014.

Supported by FedNor, these internships cover up to 50 per cent (to a maximum of $31,500) of the eligible costs of salary, employee benefit expenses, and approved training-related expenses for a 12-month full-time intern position which forwards innovation, the digital economy, or expands trade.

“We’re proud to partner with FedNor on these initiatives as we are well positioned to take on this role,” said Friyia. “We’re on the ground in our communities, with local knowledge, and are known for being able to deliver in a timely manner.”

A similar internship program, also supported by FedNor, is available for francophone private sector businesses. The Entrepreneurs Francophones PLUS (EFP) started in 2011 to support business enhancement and job creation.

“What’s truly amazing is the 91 per cent retention rate of the EFP interns following their placements,” said Friyia.

In addition to internships, francophone private sector businesses can access funds in support of marketing activities (contribution of 75 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum of $5,000).

Two recent studies on CFDCs further showcase the impact the Community Futures Program is having in Ontario. 

A Conference Board of Canada Report found that for each $1 of direct Community Futures (CF) Program lending, real GDP was lifted by $4.50. The report concludes that the program provides a net positive return on investment.

In a separate FedNor Business Number Analysis, the CF Program is also lauded.  

“When comparing CF-assisted business to non-CF business of comparable size within comparable industry sectors, Statistics Canada data shows that CF-assisted businesses experienced higher average annual growth in sales, more positive employment and payroll growth, and had consistently higher business survival rates than the comparable group,” said Friyia.

“These reports demonstrate that CFDCs are highly relevant in helping to create and maintain economically sustainable communities, which is the ultimate outcome of the CF Program. While many of us see the positive results of our efforts in each of our respective communities, it’s gratifying to see that hard work validated in the conclusions of these two reports.”

While Friyia is proud of the return on investment that CFDCs generate, and the impact that the businesses have on local communities, he also pointed out the tremendous contributions made of the volunteer Board of Directors.

“The success of the Community Futures Program stems from our local volunteer boards that draw on their knowledge of the community to guide decision-making. This gives us the flexibility to implement local solutions that make sense in our communities allowing our local small businesses to do what they do best: create jobs.”

From Muskoka to Moose Factory, there are 16 CFDCs across northeastern Ontario. 

“We all pride ourselves on being flexible, approachable, accountable, service-oriented, and responsive,” said Friyia. “Ultimately, our goal in lending is to see businesses and local economies thrive by ensuring that entrepreneurs can access the capital they need for success.”