There is no doubt that small and medium businesses are the backbone of local economies.
That’s especially true in northern Ontario towns where various “main street” sole-proprietor shops and stores are foundational to the community. With many of the country’s national banks closing up local branches, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for young entrepreneurs in small communities to find the guidance and financial support necessary to launch their businesses.
That’s where an organization like the LaCloche Manitoulin Business Association Corporation (LAMBAC) comes in. LAMBAC is one of the 25 Northern Ontario offices of the Community Futures Program, a program funded by the federal government through FedNor, with a mandate to provide economic development and small business support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Community Futures across Ontario allocated over $170 million to support small and medium businesses.
It’s a vital lifeline of support for individuals who can’t always rely on banks to get the start they need.
“We don’t compete with the banks,” said Michael Addison, General Manager of the LAMBAC office in Gore Bay.
“We tend to assume a higher risk than commercial banks. Banks often require three years of financial statements. We’re prepared to take a chance on a young entrepreneur who wants to start a business. We have a lot of young entrepreneurs with no background but they have a great business idea. We can help them with their idea and their business plan. We’re here to really help people get started in business and to expand their existing businesses.”
With over 267 offices across Canada, the Community Futures program represents a major push by the government to encourage small and medium business development in communities like LaCloche Manitoulin. Addison says his office can issue loans of up to $300,000, or pool resources together with other northern offices to secure loans of up to $750,000. Critical to the process is the local board of directors at each office which is comprised of local business people, municipal politicians, and community leaders. Addison says the board helps determine the best avenues for funding.
“When someone comes to us with a business idea we have local experts who know what the needs are in our communities,” he said. “And we know what type of business might work in our area. That’s a big part of it, this local decision making. We work with individuals and say, ‘this is a great idea, but have you considered this’ or ‘here’s a way to strengthen your cash flow.’ We actually do business counselling as part of the lending process whereas with a bank you’d have to go in with a really good business plan. If you come to us with an idea, we will help you develop it.”
One of LAMBAC’s newest and most innovative programs is called Northern Ontario Women, NOW, which was developed by staff member, Carolyn Campbell, in the Gore Bay Community Futures office. The program offers financial support and guidance to women across Northern Ontario who want to start their own business.
“It’s a grant program where we pay for things like training and professional services to help women entrepreneurs get established and grow their businesses,” said Addison. “Over the last two years we’ve put out $2.1 million just for women entrepreneurs to help them out. It’s been a great program across Northern Ontario.”
Individuals who are interested in seeking assistance through the Community Futures Program can simple contact any of the local Community Futures offices or go online at www.cfontario.ca to discover the closest office. To find out more about LAMBAC go to www.lambac.org.