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Chamber launches action plan to help local businesses

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The Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce unveiled its 2008 Business Retention and Expansion report yesterday, outlining the opinions of 86 local businesses that participated in a survey over the past year and the resulting action plan that hopefully helps build a better tomorrow for them.

“The Chamber of Commerce has been active in Fort Frances promoting business, working on issues that concern business, and participating in economic development initiatives for the betterment of our community,” Chamber president Christine Denby said at the noon-hour gathering upstairs at the Fort Frances Museum.

“In that same spirit of community improvement, we embarked on the Business Retention and Expansion project with other organizations that are equally committed to seeing businesses prosper in the Fort Frances area—the Rainy River Future Development Corp. and, of course, the Town of Fort Frances,” she noted.

“The Business Retention and Expansion project, through the participation and feedback of business owners and volunteers, provides us with the tools necessary to improve and enhance the services provided to the business community. Fort Frances’ existing businesses are the primary engines of this community.

“They are the most reliable source of information on the strengths and weaknesses of our economy and if they are pleased with the local business climate, new businesses will also find Fort Frances a great place to do business,” Denby reasoned.

“I witness continued commitment and dedication by all the members who participated in the project. Together, we have made it possible to achieve the goals of this project and, of course, ensure its success,” added Denby, noting the project has been a great team effort and everyone’s involvement will pave the way for initiatives that will help the community “thrive and grow.”

Jane Gillon, the local Ministry of Northern Development and Mines officer who also sits on the BR&E task force, explained the project was a community-based, volunteer-driven economic development tool designed to encourage the stability and growth of local business.

BR&E promotes job growth by helping communities learn about issues and concerns of, as well as opportunities for, local businesses, and set priorities for projects to address these needs.

Ultimately, communities will have greater success in attracting new business if existing ones are content with local economic conditions and community support, she noted.

Gillon said the whole process first involved the formation of a BR&E task force, which is comprised of volunteers from a cross-section of the community.

Then a community development officer (first Kerri Dittaro and then Cassandra Parise) was hired to, with the help of a team of volunteers, conduct face-to-face interviews with businesses to gather data.

Any “red flag issues” (i.e. those of immediate concern) were brought to a specific Red Flag Committee to work on.

The survey part of the BR&E project was completed by the end of March, with 86 businesses having participated. Parise then compiled and analyzed the data, and interpreted the results to identify themes, issues, or opportunities.

Her preliminary report then was turned over the BR&E task force. Over the summer, the task force developed a detailed action plan based on the survey data.

The action plan outlines 10 strategies. These strategies, their recommended actions, and the dates they’re to be completed by are as follows:

•Proactive business recruitment

—Recommit to new Memorandum of Understanding between Chamber, town, and RRFDC (Dec., 2008);

—Chart local contacts for business information, and post document on websites to allow access to information (April, 2009);

—Research development of community asset mapping plan as marketing tool (June, 2009); and

—Develop list of desired businesses and franchise opportunities (Jan., 2010).

•Energy conservation

–Create an Energy Conservation Committee to put together an energy conservation and efficiency strategy plan (Jan., 2010);

—Create a list of all energy programs (e.g. energy retrofit incentive program) for Chamber website (Jan., 2010);

—Research how to get an accredited energy auditor to complete business and home audits in Fort Frances (Jan., 2010); and

—Market energy programs

available to businesses (Jan., 2010).

•Telecommunications

—Create list of related seminars offered locally, conduct at least two e-seminars annually, market available videoconferencing to community, and develop and offer series of information sessions on the new economy (series offered by end of 2009);

–Improve local awareness of programs available that will help businesses with setup and explore ongoing costs of e-commerce (March, 2009);

–Develop a plan comparing what we have with other communities (March, 2009);

–Develop a plan showing payoffs for implementing telecommunication services (March, 2009); and

–Explore development of Wi-Fi hot spots (June, 2009).

•Workforce skill development/labour availability

—Improve awareness of labour force trends (Dec., 2008);

—Create a list of training programs offered locally to meet the needs of employers (Jan., 2009);

—Improve local awareness of post-secondary school programs (Jan., 2009);

—Establish a list of occupational positions that businesses are currently looking for or will be looking for in the future for the entire workforce (Sept., 2009);

—Explore career/job fair that focuses on entry-level jobs and careers that local community is in need of (Feb., 2010); and

—Develop a workforce development team to examine skill shortage and determine plans to address them, and create a career planning tool for existing employees, upgrading skills that may qualify them for openings (Sept., 2010).

•Support for the business community

—Conduct a consumer survey (completed, may possibly be done annually or on an ongoing basis online);

—Bring in motivational speaker on customer service (completed);

—Hold seminars on financial, succession and business planning (March, 2009));

—Reinstate a community-wide marketing alliance (April, 2009); and

—Improve financing for small/medium-sized businesses (April, 2009).

•Transportation

—Develop better communications with community on progress of road improvements (Nov., 2008);

—Communicate Dial-a-Ride program through brochures, newspapers, and radio to business community to share with employees (Dec., 2008); and

—Explore various transportation options to get workers to and from work such as car pooling and monthly passes for taxi/van services (Dec., 2009).

•Tourism/agriculture

—Forward agricultural concerns to RRFDC rural agricultural coordinator (Nov., 2008);

—Update signage to publicize community public washrooms (April, 2009);

—Encourage area tourism businesses to utilize tourism centre to promote themselves (April, 2009);

—Encourage local map publishers to identify public washrooms, businesses and parking lots (May, 2009);

—Investigate uploading area maps to Chamber website (May, 2009);

—Continue to nurture relationship with agricultural sector (Sept., 2009);

—Lobby province to improve tourism centre location/situation (March, 2010);

—Facilitate use of existing parking spaces by changing lights on Scott Street at Portage and Mowat to advance green when going west so visitors and locals can access existing town parking lots to shop downtown (April, 2010); and

—Investigate tourism destination marketing fee for Fort Frances (April, 2010).

•Town enhancement

—Provide information to Museum Heritage Tourism Study Phase II on way-finding (April, 2009);

—Develop policies for removing derelict buildings (May, 2009);

—Continue to expand “Project Petunia” (June, 2009 and annually thereafter);

—Facilitate a community business day like Spring Fever Days and Railroad Daze (Sept., 2009); and

—Encourage people to move here by promoting lifestyle, improving image, and creating video for website (April, 2010).

•Communication

—Communicate with town to improve relationships (ongoing);

—Ensure Chamber website is accessible and provides timely information (Dec., 2008);

—Compile list of frequently asked questions and answers (Dec., 2008);

—Inform public of Fort Frances Economic Development Plan (Dec., 2008, once approved);

—Communicate information on municipal taxes to business community (Jan., 2009); and

—Take top five items in BR&E report that businesses were dissatisfied with and develop plans to address issues (Jan., 2010).

•Promote shopping locally

—Continue with “shop local” campaign (ongoing);

—Promote positive effects of shopping in Fort Frances, make residents aware of businesses’ contributions towards local charities and events (ongoing);

—Look into percentage spent by consumers on out-shopping, determine effect on local economy (Jan., 2009);

—Create online database of products and services available locally to increase consumer/business awareness (Nov., 2009).

Gillon noted the task force’s job isn’t over yet, adding it will continue to work with the business community, Chamber, Town of Fort Frances, RRFDC, Confederation College, and NCDS Career Works to forward the actions outlined in the report.

Different agencies have been recommended to take the lead on various actions.

“Hopefully they’re going to be able to say they can do it,” Gillon said. “If they can’t, we’ll have to look at how we can get it done.”

Gillon added copies of the report are available from the Chamber of Commerce office, and that the public is welcome to offer still more input to the BR&E task force.

“The more that we can do to assist the existing community and to help it grow, the better our community will be,” she stressed.

The BR&E study was funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, and sponsored and supported by the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Fort Frances, and Rainy River Future Development Corp.

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