FORT FRANCES—With all the surveys completed for the local Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) project, and work now underway to ultimately devise an action plan based on those results, the initiative is seen by some as a key exercise to help keep—and attract—businesses to Fort Frances.
“The whole project is part of our work. We’re trying to develop business for the area, as well as retain the ones we have,” George Emes, a board member of the Rainy River Future Development Corp., said during a Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce mix and mingle last Thursday at La Flambée.
“Anything we do that can help to retain business is going to be of benefit to the whole community,” he added. “It’s very worthwhile. It’s a terrific program as far as we’re concerned.”
“It allows us to cater our program to what the businesses tell us they need,” said RRFDC economic development officer Geoff Gillon.
“There’s some things we can’t do anything about, like taxes,” he noted. “But last time we did this [in 2001], there was a lot of discussion on business training and business assistance, and we’ve been able to run programs over the last three or four years to help businesses with taxes, bookkeeping, marketing, and different topics like that.
“That’s what we do.”
“It gives us a good sense of the state of the business community. It changes,” added Gillon. “The last time we did this, our economy was totally different than now, so we may have a whole bunch of different issues to deal with.
“We try to do the best we can to respond to the issues,” he stressed.
Chamber president Christine Denby noted the current BR&E project is a continuation of a study conducted in 2001 by then BR&E intern Crystal Angus (née Godbout).
“It was meant to find out from the business community what exactly our barriers are and what we can do as a Chamber, as a community, to take those away,” Denby said.
“With any project like that, you have to go back and revisit, and find out what’s happening now,” she remarked. “It’s part of our role as the ‘voice of business’ to get feedback from our membership, and the community at large, to see what’s out there.
“If there’s things that can be done, and if we can point them [businesses] in the right direction or if it means looking to resources to make those kind of things happen, that’s what we want to do. It’s important.”
Denby recalled the current BR&E project actually began in April, 2007, but was delayed after Kerri Dittaro, who had been the community development intern heading up the BR&E survey, left the position for another job about a month later.
Because the one-year position was funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., the Chamber then had to request the NOHFC allow for an extension until a new intern could be hired and study completed.
They received confirmation in September that this could be done in. As such, Cassandra Parise was hired as community development officer in late November and immediately got to work.
In the interim, however, the study was not at a total standstill. Denby credited volunteer Irene Laing for continuing to conduct the BR&E surveys with local businesses to keep the momentum going.
As first reported in Friday’s Daily Bulletin, the survey portion of the local BR&E project wrapped up at the end of March, and Parise will have her analysis of the results ready by this June.
Parise noted she has begun her analysis of the survey, processing the data that has been entered into a database, reviewing print-outs, and interpreting the results to identify themes, issues, or opportunities.
She’s already compiled 40 pages of information for the preliminary report, which she expects to be up to 80 pages long by the time it’s completed.
“This report is due in June to the [BR&E] task force committee, and then over the summer months, we’ll be going through it and figuring out an action plan based on all the issues and concerns in my report,” Parise explained.
“The final report, after we go through the action plan and change a few things maybe I missed, will be presented in October at a public meeting,” she added.
Parise said a total of 86 businesses participated in the study. That number is a little short of the study goal of 100, but the deadline for surveys was extended from Feb. 29 to March 31, and the 100 mark still wasn’t reached.
The majority—66 percent—of the businesses responding were from the retail/service sector, with the balance falling into tourism, agricultural, and other sectors.
Only one percent of the responses came from manufacturing.
Parise said many of the businesses that participated also took the survey when the first BR&E study was conducted back in 2001.
“They were kind of interested to see what kind of change has happened from then to now, if anything,” she noted.
The BR&E project has been financially supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Rainy River Future Development Corp., and Town of Fort Frances.
(Fort Frances Times)