By Ian Ross
Taking the temperature of the Timmins business climate is the aim of an extensive business retention and expansion project being undertaken by a partnership of community players.
The city's Venture Centre, the local community futures agency, is spearheading the effort with the aid of the local chamber of commerce, Timmins Economic Development Corp., the City of Timmins and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, to pinpoint what factors and barriers are preventing local businesses from expanding and flourishing.
"The attention always seems to be focused on bringing new business into the community to diversify the economy," says Mark Jensen, the city's director of planning, building and economic development. "This project specifically looks at our existing business inventory through a comprehensive survey."
After an official kickoff of the survey in early September, the plan is to recruit and train about 200 volunteers to head out into the community and interview businesses on their individual needs, concerns and problems. The survey will be carried out through the entire month of October.
Brenda Southcott, business retention and expansion co-ordinator at the Venture Centre, says the volunteers will be drawn from the ranks of business management, Northern College students and retirees.
Using a standard sample survey put out by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, volunteers will fan out across the city interviewing about 300 local businesses to see what can be done to keep business in Timmins. All major employers of more than 100 people will be targetted, along with a random sampling of small- and medium-sized businesses.
Organizers expect to publish the overall survey results at some point in early 2002. The success of the exercise, organizers say, hinges on the willingness of businesses to co-operate and set aside time for the volunteers.
Jensen says municipalities that overlook the needs and concerns of their existing business base do so at their own peril, especially should an employer suddenly close their doors or relocate to another community.
"If we can do anything from our side to improve our level of service or make changes within our power, we want to know about it."
Keitha Robson-Morrell, Timmins Chamber of Commerce manager and the one who will oversee the training, says any immediate issues identified by local businesses will be earmarked to a red flag committee and dealt with right away.
Morrell says most often the feedback they receive from their membership revolves around communication problems with the city.
"Most municipalities have servicing committees of department heads for bylaw, zoning, engineering and a lot of businesses aren't aware of that, especially if they're a start-up (business)," Robson-Morell says.