By ANDREW WAREING
Business retention and expansion is a phrase close to the lips of many when talking about the economic future of a community.
To one group, however, it is more than just a phrase. It is the focus of an effort underway by three Sudbury agencies planning to interview Sudbury’s business community directly on what its needs and concerns are.
“Eighty per cent of new jobs are created by small businesses in a community,” says Helen Mulc, manager of the Sudbury Regional Business Centre. “As someone is developing or growing their business, there are always challenges, struggles and issues that they have to address. This program is based on volunteers going out and meeting with these business people, finding out what their needs are, bringing them back to the larger group and seeing if we there is anything we can do to assist them in some way.”
The Regional Business Centre (SRBC), the Sudbury and Manitoulin Training and Adjustment Board (SMTAB) and the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce (GSCC) are banding together to head up the project that is expected to start in the fall.
“The strength of the program is that it wouldn’t be just one organization delivering it,” says Mulc. “It’s a community effort.”
Business Retention and Expansion (BR+E) is an international initiative the Sudbury program is based on. The
effort includes a training package for volunteers and a “tool kit” of activities and a specially designed questionnaire.
The program would involve volunteers going to a cross-sectoral sampling of Sudbury’s 5,500 businesses to conduct a two-hour interview, asking both general questions about the local business environment, as well as questions specifically designed by the group that pertain directly to the Sudbury community.
There are a number of agencies involved in the program in Ontario, including government ministries, public utilities
and universities. The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAH) is leading the effort in Ontario.
Sharon Murdock, executive director of SMTAB, says the effort first got underway in Sudbury about three to four
years ago when the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) held a three-day training program for those interested in business retention and expansion.
Since then, there has been a lot of effort in the community to get the program rolling. Much of it has involved teaching people about the program. Murdock expects that, once the program gets underway, it will involve the volunteer efforts of Sudbury’s senior community, as well as high school students.
“People think business retention and expansion is simply a phrase, but its much more than that,” she says.
The aim is to end up with a database of information that will be worked on by all agencies to promote and assist business in its aims. Ultimately, to make sure the program comes up with significant results, it may require the services of a full-time co-ordinator, she says.
“As a partnership, we oversee the program and how it operates. If there is an issue that is identified or something that needs to be done, we will work on it. If business has a road block, we will try and get it out of the way,” says Murdock.