Skip to content

Business owners urged to 'Go North' in popular video series

Economic development is target of ongoing Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities project
Workers are featured assembling office furniture at the Three H Furniture Systems plant in New Liskeard in a still from a FONOM promotional video.

Danny Whalen was tired of hearing about the drawbacks to doing business in Northern Ontario.

As president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM), he’d led many discussions about how to work around perceived barriers — inclement weather, transportation, geographical distance — to entice more business owners north.

But Whalen thought that was taking the wrong approach.

If FONOM and its member municipalities really wanted to draw people to Northern Ontario, he reasoned, they needed to shift their perspective.

“We're saying, ‘We can help you get around this problem, we can help you get around that problem,’” Whalen said. “But there are so many advantages to being in Northern Ontario, and I thought we have to start to sell that message.”

After a bit of brainstorming, the FONOM board settled on video as the ideal medium to get that message across, and that’s when the Go North series of promotional videos was launched.

Three years and 12 videos later, FONOM’s efforts have garnered thousands of views across multiple platforms, generating interest from people across the globe.

“The response to the videos has just been great,” Whalen said.

Produced by Good Gauley Productions, a video production company based out of Temiskaming Shores, the videos average about three to five minutes in length and feature businesses from each of the seven districts FONOM represents through its advocacy work.

FONOM board members were asked to find business owners in their districts that would be willing to share their experiences, Whalen said, and the first four businesses were produced in 2020 with funding help from FedNor.

Watch Hazen Sharaf speak about his experience setting up a new pharmacy in the Town of St. Charles:

In the first, Hazem Sharaf, a pharmacist who hails originally from Egypt, speaks of the appreciation he’s received from clients at his pharmacy in St. Charles, which he opened in the small French-speaking town east of Sudbury in 2017.

“People were super welcoming,” he says in the video. “They appreciated that we came this far to offer our services.”

St. Charles’ small-town vibe means that Sharaf and his staff have personal relationships with most of their clients, he says, and life there is much more affordable.

Though he commutes between St. Charles and Ancaster every week, he’s purchased a house there, and he’s been so impressed with the community that he’s trying to convince more friends to relocate to northeastern Ontario.

“I got a truck,” Sharaf laughs. “I’m now a northern guy.”

Sharaf’s experience is exactly the type that FONOM wants to zero in on, Whalen said: someone who relocated to the North and can attest to the benefits of setting up a business there.

The organization has been intentional about featuring a variety of industries — agriculture, manufacturing, retail, tourism — to demonstrate the region’s versatility.

“We have small mom-and-pop to large (businesses featured),” Whalen said, noting that any business that’s been asked has been happy to participate. “We're getting good support from across the board.”

After wrapping up the second series of videos in February, Whalen said viewership is up 74 per cent from that of its first series.

For that, he credits Jennifer Baker Consulting, the Kingston-based marketing firm FONOM has contracted to promote their efforts.

The number of shares, comments and likes the videos are generating on various platforms is “just overwhelming,” Whalen said.

Though FONOM’s original intention was to target businesses in the Greater Toronto Area, he said they’ve received interest from across Canada, the U.S. and overseas.

Whether that’s translated to business owners relocating to the North is something FONOM isn’t able to track, Whalen said.

But they are seeing signs of growth.

Sharaf, whose pharmacy in St. Charles had already attracted new clientele at the time the video was recorded, has since expanded his business to multiple locations, Whalen said. Other companies are either in the midst of expansion or are seeking government funding to help facilitate an expansion.

“We're not taking credit for that, but just the fact that it's happening at the same time, we're hoping our project has somewhat of an impact on them,” Whalen said.

A third series of videos is currently in consideration, and FONOM is also mulling a mining-specific installment targetting mining service and supply companies.

As the North enters a new mining boom, charged by the demand for minerals to produce electric vehicle batteries, Whalen said there’s lots of opportunity for companies to find success in the very region where those minerals are sourced.

“If you need a workforce of extremely talented people, they're already here in the North,” said Whalen in his pitch to those companies.

“So instead of considering southern Ontario, you might want to consider coming closer to the mine that you're servicing. It’s opening up a whole new frontier for small businesses.”